If you find this article informative and worthwhile, please support my work by donating if you can.

logo    A New Look at Linguistic Analysis

John Kozy, Jr.

East Carolina University

Wittgenstein's votaries embrace the sentiments expressed in the Investigations as ardently as a young violinist might grasp a Stradivarius:

. . . we may not advance any kind of theory. There must not be anything hypothetical in our considerations. We must do away with all explanation, and description alone must take its place. And this description gets its light, that is to say its purpose—from the philosophical problems. These are, of course, not empirical problems; they are solved, rather by looking into the workings of our language, and that in such a way as to make us recognize these workings: in despite of an urge to misunderstand them. The problems are solved, not by giving new information, but by rearranging what we have always known. Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.1

Thus speculative and normative philosophy is abortive at best and befuddling at worst; its weapons have proven to be but wooden lances and plaster swords in its battle against ill-advised human ideals and apparently irrational human experience, and the battlefield litter has cluttered men's minds. Now, only the use of linguistic paradigms by analytical philosophers can remove this rubbish by rearranging the knowledge in those minds befuddled by the dreams of traditional philosophers, for the battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence is to be fought only with words by an army whose sole weapon is description.

What the analytical philosophers apparently forget, however, is that just as the trunk, branches, and leaves of an oak imply the existence of hidden roots, statements have implications which are sometimes philosophical. Consider, for instance, the word 'truth.' That there are three prominent philosophical definitions of it, all advanced students of philosophy know. Each of these theories can be understood as a logical consequence of certain philosophical statements. Advocates of the correspondence theory, for instance, state that truths match reality while falsehoods mismatch it; true statements picture facts and true ideas mirror objects while false statements and ideas are distorted images of facts and objects. Man when imbued with truth becomes nature's dressing table in whose mirrors are to be found images of what is while when imbued with falsehood becomes a carnival's fun house in whose mirrors are to be found grotesque reflections. This definition is dualistic, for both a thing and its image are postulated, and since epistemological dualism is the philosophical proposal that a numerical difference exists between the content immediately present to the knowing mind and the object known in non-inferential cognition, this proposal implies such a dualistic definition of 'truth.' Thus the correspondence theory can be understood as a consequence of this epistemological proposal, and the coherence and pragmatic theories can be treated in parallel fashion. The coherence theory, for example, can be thought of as a consequence of static monism, since the advocates of such a philosophical proposal can be said to advance that the Absolute is one infallible mind which instantly thinks thoughts that constitute a systematically coherent whole in which every element entails every other element. Logical consistency and mutual implication become the criteria of truth; discovering the truth then becomes an exercise in logic. Finally some dynamic monism can be said to be the basis of the pragmatic theory. Experience, for instance, can be described as unique, since an identical experience never returns. As William James says,

Free-will practically means novelties in the world, the right to expect that in its deepest elements as well as in its surface phenomena, the future may not identically repeat and imitate the past. That imitation en masse is there, who can deny? The general 'uniformity of nature' is presupposed by every lesser law. But nature may be only approximately uniform. . . .2

Consequently, the only possible way of knowing what is true at any particular moment is by performing an experiment. If the experiment verifies the hypotheses upon which it is founded, they are true; if not, they are false. The truth is that which works.

Obviously, a pattern exists here: in each case philosophers have made certain statements which imply definitions of 'truth.' I would like to suggest that some of Wittgenstein's statements also imply a definition of 'truth' and that this definition is consonant with and perhaps even requires some speculative and normative philosophizing.

One affirmation that Wittgenstein makes is that words are taught by exhibiting their uses in concrete situations. He calls this process ostensive or demonstrative teaching of words and exemplifies it by using one of his famous language games:

[The function of this language] is the communication between builder A and his man B. B has to reach A building stones. There are cubes, bricks, slabs, beams, columns. The language consists of the words "cube", "brick", "slab", "column". A calls out one of these words, upon which B brings a stone of a certain shape. Let us imagine a society in which this is the only system. of language. The child learns this language from the grown-ups by being trained to its use. . . . It is done by means of example, reward, punishment, and suchlike. Part of this training is that we point to a building stone, direct the attention of the child towards it, and pronounce a word. . . . In the actual use of this language, one man calls out the words as orders, the other acts according to them. But learning and teaching this language will contain this procedure: The child just "names" things, that is, he pronounces the words of the language when the teacher points to the things. In fact, there will be a still simpler exercise: The child repeats words which the teacher pronounces.3

Thus, in this language described by Wittgenstein, customs exist which are used to define words: a teacher indicates the denotations of the names which are uttered. In other words, the custom of saying something like, "This (while pointing to a cube) is a cube," for example, is part of such a language, and such an expression is an ostensive definition. As the vocabulary of such a language grows, no doubt, verbal definitions such as "A bachelor is an unmarried man," will also be permitted.

If anyone should now ask when such statements are true, the answer would be whenever they actually express rules of usage. "This is a cube," for instance, is true whenever it is stated while a cube is actually pointed to. Likewise, "A bachelor is an unmarried man," is true if 'bachelor' is a synonym for 'unmarried man.' Such expressions are true, in other words, when they are being used properly, and this definition can easily be extended to cover contingent statements also—a true statement may be defined as one whose use actually conforms to all the rules of usage which define its proper use, i.e., as one which is being used properly. For example, "The book is red," is true when it is being used in a situation in which there actually is a red book, i.e., when both the statements, "This (pointing to a book) is a book," and "This (pointing to the book again but directing one's attention to its color) is red," are also true. I suggest, then, that Wittgenstein's statements imply that truth is the proper way of using words in declarative expressions; falsehood, an improper way of using words in such expressions. A true statement, in other words, is one which is used in association with the kind of circumstances which can be utilized to teach someone its use, while a false statement is one which is used in association with the kind of circumstances which cannot be utilized to teach anyone its use.

Now this definition applies to all declarative expressions including value judgments, for a particular moral judgment can be said to be true when it is used in association with the kind of circumstances which can be utilized to teach someone its use; otherwise, it is false, and a parallel affirmation can be made about aesthetic judgments. For example, that honesty is good is true since the word 'good' can be taught in association with situations which exemplify honesty; likewise, that the girl in Renoir's Nude in Sunlight is beautiful is also true since the word 'beautiful' can be taught in association with such a person, but that honesty is evil and that the girl in Renoir's Nude in Sunlight is ugly are both false since the word 'evil' cannot properly be taught in association with situations which merely exemplify honesty and the word 'ugly' cannot properly be taught in association with a person similar in physical features to the girl in Renoir's painting.

Because the definition of 'truth' that follows from Wittgenstein's statements can be applied to value judgments, however, a traditional philosopher is apt to object to it, and the first thing such a philosopher is likely to say is that whenever one questions whether honesty is good or whether the girl in Renoir's Nude in Sunlight is beautiful, he is not asking whether the word 'good' is taught in association with situations which exemplify honesty nor whether the word 'beautiful' is taught in association with persons similar in physical features to the girl in Renoir's painting. Everyone admits that! What he is questioning is whether the words 'good' and 'beautiful' should be taught in association with such situations. The second protest he is likely to make is that confusion exists over the use of paradigms which are associated with value judgments, since some value-words are taught by using more than one kind of paradigm. For instance, the word 'beautiful' is taught in reference to nature, animals, human beings, language, music, and graphic art—to name just a few paradigm-categories—and the word 'good' is taught in reference to animals, human beings, human actions, food, tools, etc. Finally he is apt to point out not only that these paradigms must be distinguishable but that a decision about which paradigm is preferable in making any particular judgment must be possible, and this decision is not always easily made about value words. For example, in judging whether or not Renoir's painting is beautiful, should the paradigm of human beauty or some other be utilized?

A traditional philosopher might conclude from these objections merely that the definition of 'truth' developed above is unsatisfactory and that, therefore, the definition falsifies the philosophical statements from which it follows, but I would like to suggest that it is not only satisfactory but that these objections can be used to show that analytical philosophy and speculative and normative philosophy are compatible. This suggestion can be supported in the following way: First, to ask whether the words 'good' and 'beautiful' should be taught as they are is merely to ask how one ought to define these words, for the question asks for a decision about the use of language. To answer the question affirmatively is to be satisfied with the normal linguistic procedures; to answer it negatively is to be dissatisfied with such procedures. But, second, to notice that the same question can be asked in connection with any other paradigm and that the definition which follows from Wittgenstein's statements is sound regardless of what paradigm is finally accepted is important, for then acceptance functions as the final standard. Since there are no criteria to govern acceptance, questions of why any particular paradigms are accepted have no uniform answer. Thus in judging whether or not Renoir's painting is beautiful, the decision to utilize one or another paradigm is not governed by any procedure which always works. Should the paradigm of human beauty be utilized or some other? A debatable question, one that permits differences of opinion. For a living language after all is always incomplete—many linguistic rules that have not yet been formulated can be and those which have already been formulated can be changed, since only a dead language undergoes no change or growth. To reach a decision about the use of paradigms in connection with Renoir's painting would be to establish—if one could get the decision accepted—a new linguistic rule. Thus that philosophy can be more than descriptive follows; philosophy can be genuinely creative. As Nietzsche says:

I insist . . . that people finally cease confounding philosophical workers, and in general scientific men, with philosophers. . . . It may be necessary for the education of the real philosopher that he himself should have once stood upon all those steps upon which his servants, the scientific workers of philosophy, remain standing, and must remain standing: he himself must perhaps have been critic, and dogmatist, and historian, and besides, poet, and collector, and traveler, and riddle-reader, and moralist, and seer, and "free spirit," and almost everything, in order to traverse the whole range of human values and estimations, and that he may be able with a variety of eyes and consciences to look from a height to any distance, from a depth up to any height, from a nook into any expanse. But all these are only preliminary conditions for his task; this task itself demands something else—it requires him to create values. . . . The real philosophers . . . are commanders and law-givers; they say: "Thus shall it be!" They determine first the Wither and the Why of mankind . . . they grasp at the future with a creative hand. . . . Their "knowing" is creating, their creating a law-giving, their will to truth is—Will to Power.—Are there at present such philosophers? Have there ever been such philosophers? Must there not be such philosophers some day?4

In spite of the claims of its adherents, linguistic analysis calls for such philosophers now. The linguistic analyst needs the philosopher just as the engineer needs the theoretical physicist, and although a philosopher should be educated in the techniques of analysis, he must be creative nevertheless.

The only question is who will be that philosopher? Who will create usages and thereby create values? Almost anyone does it: the scientist, the writer, the bureaucrat, and even the man in the street—everyone but the philosopher, so the analyst seems to say. But why should the philosopher not create values too and even attempt to create better ones? After all, the creation of such values is one of his traditional tasks. Why should he not even construct fantastic metaphysical schemes to aid him if he finds them useful? After all, the important thing is acceptance, that the battle against ill-advised human ideals and apparently irrational human experience be won. Of what matter are the weapons that he uses, as long as they are effective? Why should philosophers not, then, do their utmost to change values for the better, and even if philosophical attempts to create values are never accepted, why should philosophers not attempt to be creative, why should they not fight in the traditional battle against ill-advised human ideals and apparently irrational human experience? I suggest not only that they should, but that linguistic analysis implies and perhaps requires that they should, since someone must create the changes that occur in a living language. Why should not sensitive and thoughtful men with concerns for human life create these changes and thereby influence mankind? For unguided change, even if the result of the latest knowledge, can be as harmful as, if not more harmful than, ignorance; after all, "knowledge without conscience is but the ruin of the soul," as Rabelais writes. Linguistic analysts, then, if their ideas are to have any validity, must admit that meanings can change. The philosopher has at least as much right as anyone, and perhaps a greater right, to attempt to make these changes. Thus I suggest that linguistic analysis at least comprehends speculative and normative philosophy and perhaps involves it and that philosophy again has endured in the face of criticism.



1Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (Blackwell, Oxford, 1953), sec. 109.

2William James, Pragmatism (Longmans, Green & Co., New York, 1907), p. 19.

3Ludwig Wittgenstein, The Blue and Brown Books (Blackwell, Oxford, 1958), p. 77.

4Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, sec. 211 (The Philosophy of Nietzsche, Random

House, N. Y., 1954), pp. 514—15.


Since having done graduate work at both Cornell University and the Pennsylvania State University, Mr. Kozy has taught at the Pennsylvania State University, the University of Mississippi, and East Carolina University. He has been Chairman of the Department of Philosophy at East Carolina University since 1963.