The Meaning of Language: A Study and Critique of Wittgensteinian Philosophy

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Stephens, Jennifer
Barry Ferst
Mark Smillie
Murphy Fox
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The Meaning of Language: A Study and Critique of Wittgensteinian Philosophy
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Gilbert Ryle has said that “the ‘master-issue’ with which Wittgenstein was concerned above all others was that of the nature of philosophy itself. What sort of activity is philosophizing? With what kind of problems should a philosopher deal? How should he proceed in his business?”1 2 Whether this was Wittgenstein’s master issue or not, there can be no doubt that these questions exercised him often throughout his career as a philosopher. Of course, Wittgenstein was by no means the first philosopher to ask these questions, but he, more than anyone else, is responsible for the fact that philosophers are today more mindful of the nature of their methods than ever before. Quite different from most studies before his time, Wittgenstein’s philosophy concentrated on questions that had rarely been analyzed. Instead of focusing on the manner in which philosophical problems could be solved, he directed his attention to how these problems, which he saw as pseudo-problems, could be dissolved. Furthermore, this dissolution did not come from his creation of more philosophical theories or concepts, but rather from removing the false pretenses that he found had come to surround most philosophical notions. How was Wittgenstein able to make such bold and unique conjectures? The answer lies in his thoughtful analysis of everyday language and its use. Dedicating what would come to be published as Philosophical Investigations to uncovering the misuses of language, his analysis is compelling, let alone contemptuous of any other philosophical investigation attempted in the history of philosophy. The object of this thesis is to explain the major breakthroughs of Wittgenstein’s philosophy, including his ideas concerning meaning, language games, family resemblances, ordinary language theory, and private language. The source of these explanations will come from my own interpretation of Wittgenstein’s most notable work, Philosophical Investigations. A critique of Wittgenstein’s notions will then be presented, followed by my responses to both Wittgenstein’s contentions and his opponents’ objections. Lastly, evaluation will be made regarding the implications of Wittgensteinian philosophy and the particular world view it creates.
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