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For Ludwig Wittgenstein, language is a game, but not a frivolous one

The Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) wrote two major works in his life: the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921) and the posthumously published Philosophical Investigations (1953). With Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein at once built on and contradicted his earlier work, arguing that the meaning of language wasn’t in its relationship to reality (as he’d argued in the Tractatus) but in its vast web of crisscrossing usages – a ‘language game’, as he called it, in which all people are engaged. Further, he said, any attempt to step outside this language game was doomed to fail as, in the human mind, thinking and language are inseparable. In this video from 1987, the celebrated UK broadcaster and philosophy populiser Bryan Magee (1930-2019) discusses Wittgenstein’s intricate ideas with the US philosopher John Searle (1932-). Highlighting how Wittgenstein twice upended the philosophy of language – once by disagreeing with his own earlier views – Searle points to the philosopher’s wide influence, and what he perceives as the strengths and limits of his life’s work.

6 June 2022

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