Sunday, August 8, 2010

Back to §1

One question I didn't address in my last post is whether the picture that Wittgenstein finds in Augustine's words supports the portrayal of language use in the shopkeeper story. Augustine's evil baby genius (who is selfish and whiny, and can think but has not yet cracked the code of the Latin-speaking grown-ups) is quite different from the robotic/zombie shopkeeper. One has an implausibly rich inner life, while the other is hard to imagine as having any inner life at all. But in each case we get the idea that words are correlated with things and that these things are the meanings of those words. Wittgenstein describes the idea as this: "Every word has a meaning. This meaning is correlated with the word. It is the object for which the word stands."

He seems to be against this idea. But is he against all of it? Should he be? For instance, how often does anyone suggest that the first part of the idea ("Every word has a meaning") is objectionable? But the idea of nonsense is important to Wittgenstein, so perhaps we should question this idea.

The important thing might be, not so much who or what is right, but that Augustine has described learning language as if it were a matter of becoming like the shopkeeper, despite the fact that he very clearly does not think of our lives as being like the shopkeeper's. So he has somehow said something that he does not really mean. Or else his words have been misinterpreted.

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