Ludwig Wittgenstein Philosophical Investigations Essay



Philosophical Investigations is one of the chief works of Ludwig Van Wittgenstein, a 20th century philosopher. PI or Philosophical Investigations, together with Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (also one of the main works of Wittgenstein), elucidates the various and problematic quandaries in the area of language. In addition, PI also discusses several issues on semantics, logic, philosophy of mind (epistemology), and philosophy of mathematics.

In 1953, the publication of PI took place. It has two parts. Wittgenstein wrote the first part while the second part was only an additional entry worked by his trustees. In the introduction of Wittgenstein’s PI, he suggested that his ideas in this book could easily be discerned by making contrast with his previous work, the Tractatus. The first part of the book is said to be critical. Its focus is primarily directed towards the exposition of fallacies on the usual system of thinking concerning language, thought, intentionality, truth, and philosophy. On the other hand, the second part is more on psychology, perception and the likes, which are not as critical as the themes of the first part. (Wittgenstein Philosophical Investigations)

The foreword of the first part is extracted from Augustine’s famous work, the Confessions, which suggests that our language mirrors the reality. This means that by language individuals get to know its purpose or its essence as well as its connection to the other existent entities in reality. Yet this diminution of language as simply the picture of reality does not imply that language is only limited to what we can perceive in reality.(Wittgenstein Tractatus Logico Philosophicus ) According to Wittgenstein, language has much significance rather than being a reflection of reality. It is more than a representation of individuals’ discernment of his authenticity. It is not a mere epitome of reality. Wittgenstein claimed that through this book, one could have a new method or system of looking at language, which supports the notion of philosophy as therapy. (Wittgenstein Philosophical Investigations)

Philosophical Investigations: On Language-game

Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations is an inquisition regarding the connection between meaning and the viable purposes of language. In addition, it is also an inquiry of the connection concerning the meaning and the rules of language. Wittgenstein discussed that vagueness of uses of language may be the key factor that makes the language itself problematic. He added that only by supplying an unequivocal stance of the purposes of language could this problem be resolved. (Wittgenstein Philosophical Investigations)

Wittgenstein asserted that expressions are comparable with the tools in a toolbox.(Wittgenstein Philosophical Investigations) This means that expressions or words are the very mechanisms of language that may have different uses with reference to the functions for which language may be employed. These different ways in which expressions or words could be used facilitate the construction of our notion of reality.

Seemingly, this function performs by language has really a significant effect to the structure of our reality. It is the endeavor of conferring names to objects likewise assigning labels and appellations to things. Nevertheless, the said naming of objects is only the initial advancement in the language-game. (Travis)

Language is illustrated by Wittgenstein as a game wherein expressions or words s may be exercised in a variety of ways. This includes the description of objects, asking of questions, reporting and speculating of events, giving commands, making requests, forming hypotheses, solving problems and other means of carrying out acts of communication. With these things, the sense of an expression or word may be characterized by how it can be employed as a facet of language. An expression or word may be furnished with numerous meanings, in accordance with how it is exercised in a language-game. Yet, the imperatives of the language-game may vary, and diverse rules may be harnessed various games. As Wittgenstein asserted, there is no particular and distinct rule that is applicable to all games. The imperatives or the rules of the game may or may not cause uncertainty and suspicion on how the game should be participated. These rules may also be explicit or implicit, lucid or blurred. However, there are instances in which regardless of being imprecise of the rules still they are comprehensible sufficient to be taken up for engaging in a game. (Wittgenstein Philosophical Investigations)

On Meaning

Concerning the meaning of an expression or word, Wittgenstein stated that existence of things might not be used as reference of whether it has meaning or not. Given an instance that an object exists and eventually it stops to exist, it might still have meaning.  The fact that something has name even if it is not in actuality implies that somehow it has meaning only that it is no existing.(Ricoeur and Thompson)  According to Wittgenstein, every expression or name may be employed in over one language-game; hence, every expression or name may have a group of meanings. Words, expressions, and names may still be functional exclusive of predetermined meaning. Their meanings may be rigid or inconsistent, distinct or indistinct. They may have different uses to articulate or assign themselves on particular things. (Wittgenstein Philosophical Investigations)

Moreover, words, expressions, and names, or may be clear of meaning, may possess a few meaning, or may be packed of meaning. They may have simple or composite meaning. The former may be shared to produce the latter. Furthermore, the latter may be united also to produce more complex feature of meaning. This implies that meanings are not fixed and dependent with how they are expressed in a particular language-game.(Wittgenstein Philosophical Investigations) Also, Wittgenstein suggested in this work that the sense of a word or expression is not really, what is passed on to, or named by, by that particular word or expression. The sense or meaning of a word or expression is defined by how it is employed as a facet of language. (Travis)

On Rules of the Usage

In addition, in some language-games, they may have exact rules whereas others may not have inexact rules. This may lead to two distinct notions namely: that some language-games may have alike rules or they may have group resemblances, and that some language-games do not possess similar rules – words or expressions used in particular language-game may not have the same sense when they are employed in another language-game. Wittgenstein characterized this activity of applying language as analogous to the ‘game of chess.’ The pieces on the chessboard are comparable to the words in which every word owns diverse purposes or functions in the language game. Though he did not really give a concrete explanation of the term game in his idea of the language-game, he was able to make this obvious by using analogous description of it like that of the chess. The bottom line of his argument is that every game has its own group of rules and each is participated in various ways. (Wittgenstein Philosophical Investigations)

More often, misunderstandings occur among different individuals primarily because they are playing with different language-games or that they are playing with different rules of the language-games. Different interpretations of the rules may be one of the cases, which result to misunderstandings concerning language. Alternatively, individuals may apply these rules differently thus, they are playing with vague and unclear language-game. Lastly, individuals may decide to create their own rules while playing a particular language-game. Wittgenstein said that this failure to grasped and comprehend expressions or words may frequently be derived from misapprehension of how they are employed in a language-game.(Travis)

Miscommunication may be caused by the application of words or expression that have vague and indefinite sense or meaning, or by failure to realize the connection between the sense or meaning of particular words or expressions and the way wherein they are employed. Philosophy now enters into the picture to aid the individuals in understanding and solving these presented problems in language. Its tasks are to elucidate the purposes and functions of language, and to bring together the guidelines of the usage about how rules are operated to language. (Ricoeur and Thompson)

Wittgenstein also argued that the senses and the purposes of words and expressions might change with reference to the changes that take place in the situation of a particular language-game. In order to employ words meaningfully, individuals must determine which language-game they would use or they would play likewise decide on how they would play it. (Wittgenstein Philosophical Investigations)

He also furthered that when individuals attempted to communicate with each other, they may have to settle on either a private language or a common language. The two have different rules. In private language, rules of the language-game and the words and expressions in it are determined by the individuals themselves. Moreover, this may only apply to them. On the contrary, a common language is not as complicated as compare to the former. By the term ‘common language,’ individuals need not to clarify the use and the rules of the language-game because individuals share an understanding of the senses or meaning of that particular words and expressions.(Mulhall)


On Relation of Words and Meanings

Furthermore, Wittgenstein made an appeal about the relation and connection of the words and expressions and their corresponding meaning. (Travis)Truly, this connection may be subjective or arbitrary. However, this connection is made possible by the use of the language-game. Individuals agree to play or use them as such. Therefore, they are the ones who device such relation between words and their meanings. Nonetheless, in other cases, the employment of words may not be directed by any rules or imperatives. In addition, it may take place ahead of the limits of a language-game. In these cases, combinations of words or expressions may not be directed by the rules of whichever language-game. Finally, he claimed that understanding of what is signified by a particular word might occasionally with reference to a prior experience of whatever is termed by that word.(Wittgenstein Philosophical Investigations)

John Dewey: In Relation to Language-game

In relation to the discussion of language-game, Dewey seemed to be also interested on tackling about language. Conversely, he applied his philosophical argument on ‘thinking’ by saying that it pertains to the language-game itself and that it discusses on the problem of meaning. He further defined thinking as an undertaking that operates between those in a group of people that uses language to communicate with each other. (Schilpp)

In this set-up, the individuals that are involved is said to be thinking not for the sake of some mental proceedings but principally for the sake of conveying the meaning of what is being talked about. In addition, Dewey stated that while some involved participants are expressing their thoughts, others are listening and responding in a sense that they all agree and understand the object of the conversation. (Ricoeur and Thompson)

However, Dewey’s stand on the concept of thinking or reflective thinking contradicts on how language-game operates. If thinking is said to be the process of conversing on meaning, then it is to say that in thinking one who does it creates something.(Schilpp) This creation is undeniably different from rediscovering of what is originally imprinted on the mind. By this, language-game does not really mean recollection, remembering, or rediscovering. Likewise, thinking does not only mean that it is a mere extraction of what is already in the mind. Nevertheless, such is more of creating things that are necessary for understanding and communicating.

Dewey accepted this realization and argued that in language-game there is a high possibility that new meanings would arise. In addition, by playing with a particular language-game individuals grasp the meaning of the unclear and indefinite words – only that some words and expressions are only applicable to a particular language-game that they play.(Schilpp)


Wittgenstein became consistent in his idea of language-game. He maintained that words, expressions, and names are only products of language-games. And that the meaning of words and expressions vary dependent on how it is contextualized in particular instances. The rules of a language-game may also vary dependent on how individual agree to apply them. In this regard, meaning is derived by engaging in language-game.

As stated earlier, words are really arbitrary and artificial. They can be devised as well as modified. They may be used in different senses and in different context. Hence, each word may represent multiple meanings.

Given the fact that words, expressions, names and meanings are only products of language-games, one must realize that his everyday dwellings and activities might be greatly affected by such language-game. In order to avoid misunderstanding, one must be confident that he or she is playing with the right and appropriate language-game with other people. Moreover, he or she must be able to figure out if he is playing the right language and the right rules in a particular language-game. Nonetheless, there are instances in which one’s use of words may be different from others yet they still understand each other. This is probably because of the fact that we have this established common language wherein meanings and expressions are conventionally designated to particular words. Hence, even if they are playing with different language-games they can still comprehend each other.

To end, language-game really constitutes our everyday activities. We understand things by playing with it. And most importantly, we partially have a view of how diverse the reality is.







Mulhall, Stephen. Wittgenstein’s Private Language: Grammar, Nonsense and Imagination in Philosophical Investigations. Oxford University Press, 2006.

Ricoeur, Paul, and John B. Thompson. Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences: Essays on Language, Action and Interpretation. Cambridge University Press 1981.

Schilpp, Paul Arthur. The Philosophy of John Dewey Rev Ed: Open Court Publishing Company, 1989.

Travis, Charles. Thought’s Footing: Themes in Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations Oxford University Press, 2006.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations. Third Ed: Prentice Hall, 1999.

—. Tractatus Logico Philosophicus 2nd Ed: Routledge, 2001.



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