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011 Cora Diamond

1 Introduction
My topic is the conception of clarity in Wittgenstein’s later thought – or,
more precisely, his understanding of clarification, taken to be the task of phil-
osophy. I am picking up a suggestion of Warren Goldfarb’s and Steven
Gerrard’s, that we see the change in Wittgenstein’s view of clarity as central
0111 in the transformation that his thought underwent (Gerrard 2002: 69).
It is sometimes argued that a reading of the Tractatus that takes seriously
its description of its own propositions as nonsensical, as genuinely without
content, cannot allow for the depth and significance of the later change in
his thought. But such an idea rests, I think, on failure to see how far-reaching
the change is in Wittgenstein’s understanding of clarification, and what it
demanded of him, and of us as readers. These issues seem to me to shape
Part I of Philosophical Investigations. I can discuss only some of this.
My argument is meant to provide a commentary on a number of sections
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in the Investigations, but also on the claim in the Preface that Wittgen-
0111 stein’s new thoughts could be seen in the right light only by contrast with,
and against the background of his old way of thinking. I believe that that
claim holds very strongly indeed of his new thoughts about what is involved
in philosophical clarity in relation to his old way of thinking about it.

2 Making things worse

I begin by making things worse. That is, one might take a central contrast
between Wittgenstein’s early approach to philosophy and his later approach
to be that Wittgenstein didn’t, in his later thought, attempt to get all of phil-
0111 osophy done at once, as it were. ‘Problems are solved’, he says, ‘not a single
problem’ (PI §133). And we take that to mark a deep difference from the
Tractatus. Well, it may be. But I want to make that contrast less clear-cut, or
indeed more puzzling, by looking at clarification as we are supposed to go
4111 in for it from the point of view of the Tractatus. The correct method in

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philosophy, Wittgenstein said, would be to say nothing except propositions

of natural science, and then, when someone said something metaphysical,
you could show him that he had failed to give a meaning to certain signs in
his propositions (TLP 6.53). So you are essentially waiting for something
metaphysical to turn up in this other person’s statements, and dealing with it
when it does turn up. Wittgenstein says that the method wouldn’t satisfy the
other person, but surely, if one did go in for that approach, it would appear
to be every bit as piecemeal as the approach of the Investigations. Indeed,
when we have, at the beginning of the Investigations itself, an approach to
philosophical problems about language that appears to be quite piecemeal,
we have an interlocutor speaking up at §65, plainly feeling dissatisfied. So
it at least appears that we have a situation like this: the Tractatus specifies a
piecemeal method of approach which can leave the person on whom it is
tried feeling dissatisfied, feeling (that is) as if the philosophical issues have
been evaded, and the Investigations demonstrates a method in its first 64
sections which can leave the person on whom it is tried feeling dissatisfied
and as if the philosophical issues have been evaded.
I believe that the idea that we can make out a big difference between
Tractatus and Investigations by taking the former to be committed to an all-
at-once demonstration that philosophical propositions are nonsensical, where
the latter works on a problem-by-problem basis, is confused. Not that there
is no difference, no important difference, in the vicinity of this idea, but it’s
not that easy to see what it is. What gets in the way is precisely the idea that
the Tractatus provides a wholesale approach to the demonstration of the
meaninglessness of philosophical propositions. (This isn’t the only thing that
gets in the way.)
Let me do this wholesale–retail thing in more detail: the wrong idea and
the right one. I’m going to argue that there is no wholesale demonstration of
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the nonsensicality of philosophical propositions that we are supposed to have

available to us at the end of the Tractatus, and that therefore there can be no
attempt to contrast the Tractatus with the Investigations on any supposed
basis of wholesale dismantling of philosophy by early Wittgenstein versus
patient disentangling by later Wittgenstein. If there is something wholesale
in the approach of the Tractatus, it will need some patient disentangling to
see what it is.
There are various ways in which one might take the Tractatus to provide
a wholesale method for criticizing philosophical propositions. It might be
said that we can infer from the Tractatus that such propositions violate logical
syntax, and are therefore nonsensical. Or it might be thought that we can use
the Tractatus doctrines as the basis of an inference from the failure of philo-
sophical propositions to be bipolar, together with their not being tautologies
or contradictions, to the conclusion that they are nonsensical. In the case of
a large group of such propositions, including (supposedly) the propositions
of the Tractatus itself, it might be thought that the Tractatus allows us to

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111 infer, from the fact that they are attempts to say what can only be shown,
that they are nonsensical. But there is a devastating problem with any such
attempt to see the Tractatus as providing a wholesale method for dealing with
philosophical propositions. Any propositional sign can be used in various
11 ways; there is no reason to doubt, of anything that looks like a propositional
sign, that it can be used to express a thought, or to name a cat, or in other
ways. So, if there is a ‘wholesale’ approach to demonstrating of any philo-
sophical or metaphysical proposition that it is nonsense, there must first be
some way of making clear how the proposition is to be taken, since it can
011 be used to say something perfectly intelligible. It isn’t to be taken in any of
the ways in which it wouldn’t be nonsense. How, then, is the intended nonsen-
sical use to be made clear? For only if that can be done could the wholesale
3111 approach catch hold of the proposition in question. So some kind of clarifi-
cation, or attempt at clarification, is going to be involved if the wholesale
approach is even to have a chance to connect with some purportedly nonsens-
ical proposition. The devastating problem for a reading of that general type
is this: to attempt to specify which way of taking the propositional sign makes
it nonsensical, you have to make clear what use of the sign you have in mind.
Any such clarification deals with the detail of the individual sentence; it is
0111 an essentially retail proceeding. But, in the case of a nonsensical proposi-
tion, the attempt at clarification will reveal that it is nonsense by making
plain that there is no particular use of the propositional sign that is clearly
in focus; there is no way in which the sign is being meant. The ‘wholesale’
approach requires that there be some way of taking the propositional sign,
such that the sign, taken that way, can be recognized to be an attempt to
express something which propositions allegedly can’t be used to express, or
in some other way to violate some or other rule. But then that use must be
specifiable, and distinguishable from other uses. But this attempt to specify
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a use proceeds by attempting philosophical clarification. In the course of that

0111 attempt the proposition’s character will be revealed, without any appeal to
supposed general Tractatus doctrines.1
I shall put the argument in two further forms.

1 Wittgenstein believed that, if a propositional sign expressed a thought, the

proposition could be clarified. The activity of clarification, as he understood
it, involved rewriting propositions in a way that would enable us to see clearly
what, in a sense, the proposition had shown all along; we would be able to
see the use of the proposition more clearly. Since, on the Tractatus view, any
propositional sign can, in some use, express a thought, any criticism of some-
0111 thing that looks like a proposition as being a mere nonsense must involve
distinguishing the supposed use-as-nonsense from other possible ways of
using the sign, which might be legitimate. We need to try to specify the use
we have in mind. But the attempt to specify the use we have in mind is carried
4111 on by attempting philosophical clarification. That is, philosophical clarification

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is an activity which we can and, indeed, must attempt to carry through if we

want to criticize a thing that looks like a proposition, and claim that it is
nonsense. It is, essentially, in the failure of the attempt at clarification of the
particular proposition with which we are concerned that we are able to come
to recognize that there was nothing there to clarify. There is no philosoph-
ical critique of propositions available on the basis of the Tractatus, separate
from the Tractatus conception of clarification of genuine propositions.

2 In this version of the argument, I consider an example of a wholesale

approach. Suppose someone claimed that, from the recognition that a partic-
ular proposition lacked bipolarity, and was neither a tautology nor a
contradiction, that it therefore had to be nonsensical, from the Tractatus point
of view. The question then is: what supposedly lacks bipolarity? No mere
sign has or lacks bipolarity. And, again, if we call something a tautology, we
are taking it that the names in it have a particular use: if two occurrences
of the same letter, say, are not names for the same thing, the sense cannot
‘cancel out’ as it does in a tautology. Take a typical Tractatus proposition, of
the sort that appears to lack bipolarity, ‘Propositions are truth-functions of
elementary propositions’. What use do we want to give the first word of that
proposition, as it occurs there? It is hardly meant to refer to all things that
look like propositions. Nor do we intend to use the word “propositions” to
mean truth-functions of elementary propositions; we don’t want to use the
quoted propositional sign to say that truth-functions of elementary proposi-
tions are truth-functions of elementary propositions. In order to make this
Tractatus proposition out as lacking bipolarity, and as not being a mere
tautology, we should have to specify some other sort of use for that first word.
If there is no specifiable use that we will accept as what we want there, we
can recognize a kind of failure, but it is a failure to give any meaning to one
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of the words we are using. The idea we may have, that ‘absence of bipolarity’
might be directly available to us as we consider a proposition, comes from
failure to take seriously that a sign does not itself determine a use. We have
to make clear that use of the propositional sign such that we want to say: the
sign used that way expresses something that is not bipolar. Before there is
any attempt to apply some general doctrine about non-bipolar propositions,
we’ve got to have such a proposition. But what will happen if we attempt to
spell out the use we mean is that the attempt at clarification will show us that
there is nothing we will accept as what we mean. The attempt at clarifica-
tion has to precede the supposed application of doctrine; and, if indeed the
proposition-like thing in question is philosophically problematic, what will
happen is that the attempt will bring out a kind of failure to mean anything
clear at all. We shall never get as far as the supposed application of doctrine.
What does the work is the attention to the particular problematic sentence
itself, the attempt to clarify it, and the failure of that attempt. Again: the idea
we may have that such-and-such proposition is not bipolar is, itself, a

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111 symptom of not having attempted clarification. It involves an irremediably

cloudy impression-of-having-a-thought, attached to a sign the use of which
we are not attending to. In general: there is no description available to us, of
any proposition, which will enable us to connect it with some supposed
11 Tractatus doctrine about nonsensicality and, thereby, to deduce the non-
sensicality of the proposition. We have first to attempt to clarify the use of
our signs. If that attempt falters, we shall have come to see that the prop-
ositional sign in question is nonsensical. If it does not falter, then nothing
else is going to show that the proposition is nonsensical. There is here no
011 special Tractatus sense of ‘nonsensical’, only the ordinary idea of not
meaning anything at all.2

Appendix to Section 2
I have given that argument in general terms, but it is meant to cover a variety
of readings of the Tractatus, in which the ‘wholesale’ criticism of philo-
sophical propositions is made to depend on this or that different supposed
principle for demonstrating nonsensicality. There are, however, special points
to be made about two of these ‘wholesale’ readings.
1 First: the reading that takes the fundamental flaw of propositions identifi-
able as nonsense to be their violation of logical syntax. But what it means,
in the Tractatus, for a language to be governed by logical syntax is for there
not to occur in it the same sign for different symbols, or superficially similar
signs that have different modes of signification. So, if one were to use the
phrase ‘violation of logical syntax’, on the basis of the Tractatus, one could
say that having distinct uses of ‘is’ (as copula and as identity-sign) consti-
tutes a violation of logical syntax. It is then the Tractatus view that the
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existence in a language of such ‘violations’ makes possible fundamental

0111 philosophical confusions. But it is also clearly the Tractatus view that there
is no inference from the existence of such a ‘violation’ to the nonsensicality
of any particular sentence, even one involving the same sign being used in
two quite different ways. No sentence can be shown to be nonsensical by
supposedly containing a ‘violation of logical syntax’. This is for two reasons:
(a) the general argument above, which depends on the possibility of legiti-
mate use of any propositional sign, and (b) the absence, in the Tractatus, of
any notion of ‘violation of logical syntax’ which would enable one to say
that such violations do more than help us pull the wool over our own eyes.
They don’t make anything nonsensical. You can refuse to be governed by
0111 logical syntax, in the sense of 3.325, and talk nothing but sense.3

2 The reading that takes the fundamental flaw of some nonsensical proposi-
tions, including those of the Tractatus itself, to be that they contain signs the
4111 correct use of which is to signify formal concepts, and use those signs as

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proper concept-words. So (on this view) the reason it is nonsense to say ‘1

is a number’ is that the word ‘number’, a word signifying a formal concept,
is used as an ordinary concept-word. And the idea is then that we can simply
infer the nonsensicality of ‘1 is a number’ from a general proposition about
signs for formal concepts, used as ordinary concept-words. But here it is
evident that the occurrence in a propositional context of the word ‘number’,
not being used in a way which would go over to a variable in a conceptual
notation, is not itself a sufficient condition for the proposition as a whole to
be nonsense. So, for example, it is hardly nonsense to say ‘He wanted to be
waited on, but didn’t know he had to take a number’, though the word
‘number’ is there used as an ordinary concept-word for what you take from
a certain machine. There is no inference from a sign’s use in some proposi-
tional context not being to signify what it signifies in some other contexts to
the propositional context in question being one in which nothing is said. Such
uses do constitute violations of logical syntax, but only in the sense described
above, namely, that they contain a sign which is used in distinct contexts in
different ways. Wittgenstein, indeed, says that ‘1 is a number’ is nonsense.
But the passage in which he says this (4.1272) is condensed, and does not
say how one could show someone who said ‘1 is a number’ that what he had
said was nonsense. Wittgenstein is generalizing about a certain kind of philo-
sophical confusion; one can, he thinks, show the utterers of certain sorts of
confused remark that they have said nothing. But this does not mean that
identifying what someone has said as a confused remark of the relevant
sort is, itself, a demonstration that the remark is nonsense. The fact that
such remarks can be shown to be nonsensical does not mean that there is
available any special Tractatus principle which would enable one to give a
direct demonstration of the nonsensicality of such propositions. To demon-
strate to someone that he or she has spoken nonsense, one needs no special
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principles; that’s part of the point of Tractatus 6.53.

3 The Tractatus and the Big Problems

I have argued that the Tractatus does not provide a general principle which
can be used to demonstrate that philosophical propositions are nonsensical,
and that therefore we cannot differentiate the philosophical method of the
Tractatus from that of Wittgenstein’s later philosophy by reference to the
place of such a general principle in the Tractatus. The Tractatus approach to
philosophical confusion is, in an important sense, piecemeal; it depends
essentially on enabling a person to see that the attempt to clarify the use of
his or her words falters. In the attempt at clarification, one comes to be able
to recognize that one has failed to say anything, that one has not given
meaning to one or more of the signs one has used.
Let me turn here to Philosophical Investigations §65. The person who
objects to Wittgenstein’s approach in the previous 64 sections says: ‘You

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111 take the easy way out! You talk about all sorts of language-games, but have
nowhere said what the essence of a language-game, and hence of language,
is: what is common to all these activities, and what makes them into language
or parts of language. So you let yourself off the very part of the investiga-
11 tion that once gave you yourself most headache, the part about the general
form of propositions and of language.’
The propositions of the Tractatus which appear to be statements about the
nature of language are supposed to be recognizable by us as nonsensical, and
the very questions we ask in philosophy are supposed to be recognizable as
011 not genuinely questions at all. We are, however, supposed (when we get to
the end of the book) to be able to engage in philosophical clarification; this
activity includes not only clarification that turns out to be successful but also
3111 attempts which fail, where the failure itself can help us to see that we had
meant nothing by our words. Wittgenstein’s later criticism of his earlier
thought has at its center his own reflections on how the questions which we
supposedly renounce in the Tractatus, and supposedly recognize not to be
questions, nevertheless shadow the kind of clarification which the Tractatus
recommends. The book leaves us with a method that is in the shadow of the
big questions he had been asking. The search for the essence of language is,
0111 in theory, überwunden, overcome. But it is really still with us, in an ulti-
mately unsatisfactory, unsatisfying, conception of what it is to clarify what
we say.
We can see Wittgenstein, in §65 of the Investigations, to be critically
engaged with a conception of the problems of philosophy, with the idea that
there are certain fundamental essential problems. He took himself to have
been in the grip of this idea. Although he had (at the time he finished the
Tractatus) believed himself to have resolved these fundamental problems, and
indeed to have shown that they were, in a sense, not questions at all, he had
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had a conception of clarification, of the method of philosophy, which,

0111 although he was unaware of it, was distorted by the idea of big fundamental
problems. So, to understand the difference between Wittgenstein’s earlier and
later thought one has to see the difference in his conception of clarification;
and to understand that, one has to see how his earlier thought was in the grip
of the idea of big fundamental philosophical problems, and how the later
thought was meant to free us from the grip of that idea. The idea of philo-
sophical clarification in Wittgenstein’s later thought is tied closely to his idea
of how our thinking can be distorted by the conception of big essential philo-
sophical problems, a conception which it is enormously difficult, in practice,
to renounce.
0111 (Here, I’d like to clarify something about what is involved in reading
the Tractatus. In reading any work of philosophy, we may operate with
some distinction between what the author thought had been achieved by it
and what he or she did achieve. In the case of the Tractatus, though, we need
4111 particular care in distinguishing Wittgenstein’s own conception of the

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Überwindung of his own propositions and what we may want to say about
the achievement of that Überwindung. It may be that, as Wittgenstein under-
stood his achievement at the time of completing the Tractatus, he took the
metaphysical-seeming propositions of the work, including propositions about
the essence of language, to have been completely überwunden, and to be
recognizable as nonsense, plain and simple. It is entirely consistent with such
a reading of what Wittgenstein took his achievement to have been at that time
to hold that a metaphysical view of language had not been completely über-
wunden and was, indeed, reflected in the work in some way or other, for
example, as I shall argue, in the conception of philosophical method with
which the book leaves us. To argue that there is, in some sense, metaphysics
remaining in the Tractatus is not to hold that Wittgenstein took any of his
metaphysical-seeming propositions to be meant to convey some sort of meta-
physical insight. I have emphasized this point because it may appear possible
to infer from ‘There is something metaphysical in the Tractatus’ to ‘Not all
the metaphysical-seeming propositions in the Tractatus are meant to be recog-
nizable as plain and simple nonsense’. I have elsewhere argued for an
interpretation which says that Wittgenstein did mean the metaphysical-
seeming propositions, including those about the nature of language, to be
recognizable as plain and simple nonsense; I am not here arguing for such a
reading but only noting that they can all have been so intended, and it never-
theless be the case that the book is unwittingly metaphysical in some respect
or other.)4

4 Piecemeal method and the hold of a Big Question

I have argued that the Tractatus leaves us with a conception of philosophical
method that in some respects resembles the ‘piecemeal’ method of the
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Investigations. We wait for someone to say something metaphysical; we show

the person who said it that attempts at clarifying his or her use of signs reveals
that some sign is not being used to mean anything. But what Wittgenstein
had in mind as clarification had in it a conception of the general logical char-
acter of all thought and speaking and inferring. The propositions of the
Tractatus, for example about the truth-functional character of logic, may be
überwunden, but the picture of logic as having a certain general character is
then present in the recommended method of the Tractatus in the way infer-
ential relations are supposed to be treated in the clarifying of propositions.
If, in the Tractatus, ‘a picture held us captive’, that captivity can be seen in
the way the clarification of propositions proceeds in accordance with a model
taken to have totally general applicability. The Tractatus treatment of the Big
Question of the nature of language leaves behind (once the Question is
supposedly shown to be not a question at all) a philosophical method that
pays no attention to differences, to the complex reality of our propositions
and our modes of inferring, or to the reality of our particular philosophical

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111 difficulties. The failure of the direct attack on the Big Question of the nature
of language, the attack that shares with the Question a conception of the
generality of the issue, can be seen (supposedly) in the persistence, in the
philosophical method of clarification, of a false understanding of philosophy
11 itself. The Big Question does not disappear; the Tractatus had only seemed
to provide a route to genuine clarity.
In §133 of the Investigations, Wittgenstein says that the real discovery is
the one that makes it possible for philosophy no longer to be tormented by
questions which bring philosophy itself into question. He says that problems
011 are solved (difficulties eliminated), not a single problem. – How, then, is it
possible for us to see philosophical problems as problems, and not in terms
of a single problem? What the real discovery is, then, is what will enable us
3111 to see philosophy in that way.
This leads to a question. In what way does the Investigations enable us to
leave behind a captivity to the idea of the Big Question? I take this question
to be vital in our attempt to see how Wittgenstein’s understanding of clarifi-
cation shifts between the Tractatus and the Investigations and, hence, also
vital in the reading of the Investigations itself.

5 Continuing to think Big Questions
The points about philosophy that I have been discussing are already present,
most of them anyway, in the notes on philosophy in Wittgenstein’s Big
Typescript of 1933. The version of PI §133 in the Big Typescript lacks the
Investigations remark that there is not a philosophical method, but rather
methods, like different therapies (PO, p. 195). And, indeed, the chapter on
philosophy in the Big Typescript itself seems to work with the idea of a single
method. I don’t think that Wittgenstein became clear until somewhat later
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what might be a way of responding to our tendency to think in terms of Big

0111 Questions, what it might be to write a book that could show what it is to
think in terms of philosophical problems, rather than of a single essential
problem. He did come to believe that one should demonstrate with partic-
ular examples the usefulness of different methods, for example, of inventing
language-games unlike ours in important respects. But he did not, I think,
believe that there was anything that could, as it were, insulate his approach
from a kind of misreading that would see the treatment of particular exam-
ples as derived from or embodying some supposed response to the Big
Question of the nature of language, or the conditions of sense. Such misread-
ings may have various sources, but one of them is the feeling that his
0111 philosophy would lack depth or would be unsatisfying if it did not deal with
some such Big Question. To see him as an important philosopher, so it may
seem, we must see him as moving from one approach to the Big Question
in his earlier thought to another later on, not as serious in what he says about
4111 Big Questions. So, here is a brief summary of one kind of understanding of

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Wittgenstein’s later thought about philosophical clarification, a summary of

what I take to be a misunderstanding: Wittgenstein gives a new answer to
the Big Question of the nature of language, which dictates an understanding
of clarification as making plain the rules of grammar of the language-games
in which we engage. We are thus (supposedly) enabled to see that we have
got into our philosophical puzzlements by using words in ways that have no
place in those language-games. Here, a general kind of approach to philo-
sophical problems is established first, and in advance of its application to
particular problems. It is no part of clarification (thus understood) that we
should be enabled to see our problems themselves as standing on their own,
to be dealt with on their own, or that indeed seeing them in that way consti-
tutes a great part of the difficulty of responding to the problems. I am arguing
for a different understanding of Wittgenstein’s later ideas about philosoph-
ical clarification, taking seriously the remark from the Big Typescript (also
in Zettel), that what makes the greatest difficulty in philosophy is the kind
of reordering of our understanding that enables us to see philosophy as
cross-strips, each of them a whole definite piece.5
Let me try here to avoid two possible misconceptions. (1) I spoke just now
of seeing our problems as, in a sense, standing on their own. I don’t mean
that Wittgenstein thought of philosophical problems as having no light to
shed on each other. He very definitely thought they did shed light on each
other; but the question is how they do so. It is very natural for us to orga-
nize our thought about the connection of problems to each other through the
idea of something both deeper and more general than the individual prob-
lems themselves. This conception is present in the Tractatus and survives the
supposed Überwindung of the questions. Some or other version of it char-
acterizes many readings of the Investigations, for example, that of Kripke,
who sees the treatment of particular problems as falling out of a general treat-
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ment of Big Questions about Meaning. (2) In saying that Wittgenstein was
not, in the Investigations, concerned to provide a new answer to the Big
Question of the nature of language, I don’t mean that he was not concerned
with the nature of language. I mean that there is a difference between seeing
such a question as a Big Question and seeing it simply as a problem or rather
a group of problems, philosophical problems that can be approached through
the methods he had developed.
The presence of some or other Big Answer in our understanding of the
Investigations is responsible for a kind of incoherence in many readings. That
is, we may say that Wittgenstein thought that in philosophy we need to remind
the person who is confused of how we use words. And we may say that,
because we are simply issuing such reminders, philosophical disputes should
not arise; if they do, we can simply provide other reminders instead. But if,
in our understanding of Wittgenstein, we take it that the point of the reminders
is tied to an idea that we speak nonsense when we depart from the ways of
using language that are in accordance with the rules of our language-games,

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111 we are making use of a general conception of language, of sense and non-
sense, of the conditions of sense, which would seem to be highly disputable.
So far as we ascribe to Wittgenstein a conception of clarification which is
tied to some such general account of language, the fact that the bits of
11 clarificatory discourse are not themselves interestingly disputable cannot
begin to show that philosophical practice, as Wittgenstein understood it,
doesn’t give rise to serious disputes. If we want at least to try to see
Wittgenstein’s understanding of philosophical method as coherent, we have
to see his idea that it does not give rise to serious dispute as not combinable
011 with the intention of providing this or that Answer to a Big Question about
language. The real difficulty is in not thinking Big Questions; the real
discovery is how not to do it. When Wittgenstein said ‘Don’t think, look’,
3111 the hardness of looking is that of seeing the case with which we are puzzled
as treatable genuinely on its own, the hardness of letting what can be said
about it help, letting it satisfy us. This is at the heart of his later conception
of clarification.

6 A case
0111 The authors in this volume have been asked to focus on the Investigations
and related works. But we can, I think, be helped to see what Wittgenstein
is doing in the examples of philosophical method which he provides in the
Investigations if we consider a simple example from his actual practice with
his students. Such an example may help us to see the transformation of our
problems at which Wittgenstein aims: we may be able to see a problem losing
its tie to Big Questions, the tie which keeps us, in our struggles with the
problem, from going out the unlocked door.
The example I shall consider comes from Elizabeth Anscombe’s account
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of how she had felt trapped by phenomenalism, and how Wittgenstein’s

0111 ‘medicine’ enabled her to see her way out of it.6 She had felt trapped by
phenomenalism because she had responded strongly against a Lockean repre-
sentative realism which insisted that colors as she saw them were not
genuinely part of the external world. But, finding herself insisting that blue
(this blue), or yellow (this), were there, out there, she was on a path that led,
or seemed to, in a direction in which she did not want to go, to a reading of
the world as itself made of these items that she was thus aware of, a world
constructed out of the ‘this’es: out of the yellow of which she was aware as
she stared at the cigarette packet in front of her, and of more things like it.
We need then to imagine her, sitting in Wittgenstein’s classes, hearing his
0111 discussion of the ostensive definitions we may think we give ourselves. What
he says seems to allow no place for the thises of which she is aware. If he
says that words for the colors things are are public words, not words we define
by concentrating on a this, then it seems that what is there, given his under-
4111 standing of the world, cannot be this. But it is this, blue, or this, yellow, that

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is what she still wants to say is there. Take away the ostensive definition she
gives herself and the thises that make, or seem to make, those definitions
possible, and you take away the character of the world as she is aware of it.
You take away what she wants to say is there.
In response to her expression of that idea, Wittgenstein asked her to
suppose that we had the word ‘painy’ as a word for the property of some
surfaces.7 This ‘medicine’, Anscombe says, was effective. She did not (before
or after the ‘medicine’) think of ‘blue’ as the name of this sensation that she
was having; and Wittgenstein’s suggestion of a word working as a secondary-
quality word for surfaces with a property through which they caused pain
did not lead her to the idea that, so far as she was inclined to say ‘Blue is
there’ she might equally be inclined to say ‘Painy is there’. Quite the reverse.
She had no inclination to say ‘Painy is there’; and she could see the contrast
clearly between a word like ‘painy’ and a color word, like ‘blue’. Before the
medicine, it had seemed that, if one were dissatisfied with Lockean realism,
and did not take blue-as-one-was-aware-of-it to be something internal in
contrast to the ‘colorless’ external world, one would have to ask whether blue-
as-one-was-aware-of-it was a part of the surface of things, or one of the items
out of which the external world was composed, or something else again. One
would focus on what one was aware of, and ask about it. The clarity produced
by Wittgenstein’s suggestion lay in the capacity of the example to make the
Lockean question disappear, the question where blue, this, really is. The ques-
tion arises out of a kind of unclarity. ‘Blue’ is not like ‘pain’/’painy’, but
Lockean realism gets its convincingness from that contrast being out of sight.
‘Painy’, as a secondary quality word, works just fine; but it works as such a
word precisely because ‘pain’ is not a word like ‘blue’ but a word for what
we feel. If ‘painy’ (for surfaces) together with ‘pain’ (for what we feel when
we come in contact with a painy surface) is our model of how secondary
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quality words work, ‘blue’ is not a secondary quality word. It appears to us,
though, as we move into the Lockean quagmire, that, if there can be a word
for those features of blue things that make them look the way they do to us,
then what else there is to blue must be purely a sort of given. When we are
gripped by this idea, there appears to be a question where blue as this-we-
are-aware-of really is. Anscombe rejected the idea of it as purely internal,
but the only alternative (before the medicine) appeared to be that it was
somehow ‘out there’. A recognition (as in Anscombe’s case) that there is no
need to say ‘Painy is there’ may help reveal the contrast between ‘pain’ and
‘blue’, and the way a not-fully-thought-through analogy between the two
falsifies our thought.

7 More about Anscombe’s case

1 It is clear in Anscombe’s account of the ‘medicine’ that it did not have to
work. She ascribes to Wittgenstein the idea that it was the right medicine for

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111 her; it would not have been the appropriate medicine for someone who had
taken ‘blue’ to be a word for a sensation, or who moved to that view in
response to Wittgenstein’s suggestion. If I speak of the capacity of the
example to make the Lockean problem lose its apparent inevitability, I don’t
11 mean to suggest that it would do so for everyone.

2 Wittgenstein provides various metaphors to describe the kind of transfor-

mation of thought that can be effected by such ‘medicine’. One is the
metaphor of the condensation of a cloud of philosophy into a drop of
011 grammar. Another, already referred to, is the metaphor of seeing philosophy
in cross-wise strips. I want to say more about how that metaphor connects
with the Anscombe case.
Before the ‘medicine’, Anscombe’s problem is one of philosophy’s Big
Questions. It is a form of the question how our thought is able to connect with
reality. She is aware of, has in her mind, this, the blue; is it or is it not there,
in the world? There are various Big Answers one can give to this Question.
Wittgenstein invites her to think about ‘painy’; one might ask whether it is
there or not, but she has no inclination to ask or answer that question. The
0111 question she was asking, about where the blue is, loses its capacity to puzzle
her, as she comes to see clearly the contrast between ‘blue’ and ‘pain’/’painy’.
Her problem about color is resolved; it is at the same time seen to be one par-
ticular problem. The problem had been irresolvable when it was seen as Big
Question: for that pointed her attention away from the details of the use of
words. The medicine makes possible attention to details that are capable of
helping her reach a satisfactory resolution of the problem; but also makes
possible the re-conception of the problem as a particular problem.
Wittgenstein says in §92 of Philosophical Investigations that in his inves-
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tigations he is concerned with the essence of language. But he says that it is

0111 possible to be concerned with that question in different ways. There is the
Big Question way, that asks ‘What is language?’, ‘What is a proposition?’;
and there is an investigation which transforms such questions into cross-wise
strips, which comes at them over and again from different directions, and
reaches satisfaction not ‘ein für allemal’ but for the case of this and that
particular problem. In reading Wittgenstein, the attempt to put together an
overall account of the nature of language goes against precisely that idea of
philosophical method. So I am suggesting this way of thinking of clarifica-
tion, as understood in Wittgenstein’s later thought: Wittgenstein clarified part
of the grammar of ‘blue’, as a way of dealing with one particular problem,
0111 where the clarification itself included allowing the problem to be seen as a
particular problem. So, too, parts of the grammar of ‘proposition’ (say) or
‘language’ may be clarified, in response to particular problems, where the
clarification will include allowing us to see our problem as a particular
4111 problem, not as the problem, not as an infinitely long lengthwise strip.

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8 Clarification of clarification
In this section I want to try to clarify the conception of clarification which I
have sketched by considering an example of what it is like to do something
different, something which will fail to clarify by providing or attempting to
provide a lengthwise strip of philosophy.
Here, then, is my example. It’s meant as an example of reading Wittgenstein
without taking in the significance of the contrast between lengthwise and
crosswise philosophy. Wittgenstein, so it may be suggested, gives us an
account of sense as constituted by grammar. Grammar is different in different
language-games; so (reading Wittgenstein as holding that sense is constituted
by grammar), it follows that what is said in one language-game cannot
mean the same as what is said in a language-game in which the rules of
grammar are somewhat different. What we might take to be a case of people
within one language-game contradicting people in another cannot literally be
Someone who reads Wittgenstein that way thinks that we should look
within particular language-games to see the sense of what is said in them, but
does not think that that applies to words like ‘sense’ or ‘meaning’ or ‘con-
tradiction’. That is, if in our ordinary talk about who means the same as some-
one, or about who contradicts someone, and so on, we actually accept that
people whose modes of speech have different rules may mean the same, or
may contradict each other, that doesn’t count. There is (supposedly) a deeper
sense of meaning the same, or of contradiction, or a more literal sense. That
is, if grammar constitutes sense, we can gather from that insight a more fun-
damental understanding of sameness and difference of sense than might be
got by what would be a merely slavish adherence to the vagaries of ordinary
language. Wittgenstein himself may sometimes seem to recommend such an
attitude, but, in giving an account of his overall view of language, we should
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not follow him.

But the issue here is distorted if seen in terms of whether we can be too
slavish in adhering to ordinary language. Consider the ways in which people
dispute, or seem to be disputing, whether Jesus is the Messiah. On the face
of it, it looks as if Jews and Christians contradict each other about this. ‘Jesus
is the fulfilment of these texts’, ‘Jesus is not the promised fulfilment’. Jews
and Christians may point to the same texts to explain what they mean by
being the Messiah, but they do not use the same criteria for settling whether
someone is or isn’t the Messiah. So, if someone holds that criteria for settling
an issue belong to grammar, and if grammar is supposed to constitute sense,
Jews and Christians cannot mean the same by ‘Messiah’ and are not literally
contradicting each other about who is Messiah. Here, the concepts of
meaning and not meaning the same, and of contradicting someone, are given
a comparatively simple grammar, so that whether or not two people are
contradicting each other can be read off from the rules for the use of a word,

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111 here ‘Messiah’. If the rules in the respective language-games are different,
the two people don’t mean the same, and aren’t contradicting each other. But
Wittgenstein thought that, in philosophy, we are frequently inclined to just
that sort of simplification; we don’t see how complicated the use of our words
11 is. The way in which we learn to use expressions like ‘mean the same’ and
‘contradict’ is extremely complicated, is extremely difficult to describe; and
in philosophy we may let ourselves off from seeing that complication. The
case of the dispute about the Messiah is one part of the complicated story
here, and should be looked at on its own. What is interesting about it is
011 precisely that it is like some cases that we may have in the forefront of our
minds when we think about whether people mean the same by their words,
but unlike other cases. The complicated grammar of ‘contradict’, of the ways
3111 we use that term, includes this sort of case. If we see this case, with its resem-
blances and differences from other cases in which we say that such-and-such
people deny what others assert, that one group contradicts the other, there is
not here some further question whether Jews and Christians ‘literally’ contra-
dict each other. If we look at the cross-strip, the uses of terms like ‘contradict’
in connection with a variety of circumstances including this particular case,
the philosophical question may disappear; there would be no remaining
0111 puzzlement; we see this case in its relation to others. This isn’t to say that
there is a foolproof way of achieving such a reconception of the problem, to
make it become a question about the grammar of ‘contradict’ and its compli-
cations in such cases. We may go on wanting to insist (say) that there is no
literal contradiction in such cases; but that insistence reflects the idea of
contradiction as not something open to view. Contradiction is seen as a kind
of logical doing, fundamentally as one thing which is either there or not.
Whether one person is asserting that which the other is denying depends on
sameness of sense, which depends upon what determines sense, about which
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there is a general account, to which the ways we actually use words like
0111 ‘contradict’ are irrelevant, and needn’t be attended to. The infinite lengthwise
strip is, in this case, the question how sense is determined. Here the focus
on a Big Question is tied to a falsification of the use of our words, of what
complicated things we do with them.9
The example illustrates how Wittgenstein is concerned with ordinary
language – not, that is, as a slavish devotee of leaving it as it is. Rather, the
refusal to attend to what we say frequently shows a kind of misconception
of our problems themselves, a misconception which keeps us turned away
from the unlocked door, and which makes it impossible for us to achieve
clarity. The point of attention to ordinary language is not that it is in any way
0111 sacred; rather, attention to ordinary language is capable of transforming our
problems and our sense of where we are with them.
I have argued that we cannot succeed in reaching genuine philosophical
clarity, as Wittgenstein understands it, so long as we take philosophy, or try
4111 to, in lengthwise strips. If we are not able to transform our understanding of

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our problems, we are locked into unsettlable disputes. This comes out, for
example, in the interminable dispute about whether a person isolated from
birth could possibly have a language, and what Wittgenstein’s view of the
matter is. One side holds that, so long as the speaker is conceived as using
words the meanings of which are public, there is nothing in Wittgenstein that
disallows the possibility of such a case, even if the speaker were isolated
from birth; the other side holds that, apart from a speaker’s relations with
other speakers there can be no such thing as his or her meaning anything
determinate by sounds or written marks. The focus of the dispute is on a
lengthwise strip of philosophy, the possibility of meaning anything by
anything uttered or written. There are supposed to be general answers to that
Big Question to be found in Wittgenstein; but obviously whichever Answer
one chose to ascribe to him would be highly disputable. How could the ques-
tion be turned into one which draws us back to crosswise strips of
philosophy? What would that be like? What is the work of clarification really
like here? I’ve suggested that the real work of clarification is whatever makes
possible the move to the crosswise strip, the transformation of the question
itself. (In this particular case, the transformation may be effected by consid-
ering in detail the character of the kind of case we are asked to imagine; for
it is no good saying that we are to imagine someone whose words have
‘public’ meanings. What does the person do, what exactly (in the absence of
other people) shows the shareableness of what she is doing? My word ‘tree’
has a public meaning that can be seen in how I learned it, and how I use it
with other people. If we are to imagine someone who has a word supposedly
meaning ‘tree’, but who has not learned words from others and who does not
use the words with others, where exactly, in what she does, am I supposed
to see what the shareableness of what she says comes to? To describe this in
detail would be to describe a case which is, in many ways, unlike our own
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in what we see as showing the shareableness of what is said; so whatever we

may adduce by way of resemblances, the case will be one which is connected
with ours as much and as deeply by contrast as by resemblance. Such atten-
tion to the description of the case may transform the question, so it is no
longer about the Conditions for Meaning Something By Our Words.)10

9 Piecemeal, piecemeal and piecemeal

I gave as an example in Section 8 the case of someone who ascribes to
Wittgenstein a general account of the relation between sense and grammar,
and who takes it to be a consequence of the views ascribed to Wittgenstein
that, if the rules of two language-games are different, the people playing
one game cannot literally contradict the people playing the other game. The
picture there, of contradiction as a sort of logical reality that may or may not
be present, is tied in two ways to the mode of thought of the Tractatus. In the
first place, the picture is present in the Tractatus, and is indeed part of what

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111 remains behind, influencing Wittgenstein’s conception of the activity of philo-

sophical clarification, even after the problems of the book are supposedly
überwunden. More significantly, though, it reflects an approach to philosophy
itself that Wittgenstein came to see made impossible genuine philosophical
11 satisfaction. At 3.3421, Wittgenstein says that particular cases have no signifi-
cance for philosophy, except so far as the possibility of such-and-such indi-
vidual case can open up for us something of the essence of the world. Grasping
the essence of the world is, here, a matter of getting hold of a lengthwise strip.
And individual cases can matter, on this understanding of philosophy, only so
011 far as they enable us to get hold of the lengthwise strip.
It’s not news that Wittgenstein took particular cases seriously in his later
thought in a way he had not earlier. I don’t think it is easy to see, though,
3111 what the change actually comes to, what its significance is, and how it is
connected with his changed conception of philosophy itself. It is easy to read
the emphasis on attention to particulars as itself reflective of an Answer to a
Big Question. We may be directed to look at the language-games we play
with some word, with a view to showing us that our philosophical uses violate
the rules for that word, or project the rules of one language-game into another,
and so on. And that then is supposed to imply, given some general concep-
0111 tion of meaning that we ascribe to Wittgenstein, that we had been talking
nonsense. Here, attention to the particularities of this or that language-game
is supposed to be the method Wittgenstein teaches us, but what is meant here
by ‘attention to particulars’ has no tie to the idea that our problems can be
transformed if we are able to take them as problems on their own, without
connection to a Big Question. The method of attention to language-games,
understood as dictated by an Answer to a Big Question, e.g. about the condi-
tions of sense, I shall call the dogmatic method. Dogmatism enters it in two
ways: it is dogmatic in its reliance on an Answer to a Big Question; it is
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dogmatic in its way of telling people that what they are inclined to say can
0111 be shown to be nonsensical because of the supposed failure to play the
language-game right. So, I want to argue here that there are at least two
piecemeal approaches that are not the later Wittgenstein’s: one is the piece-
meal approach of the Tractatus, in the shadow of a picture of language arrived
at by working through a Big Question, but not having got genuinely past it.
The other is the piecemeal approach of the dogmatic method of language-
games, in the shadow of a different Answer to the same Big Question.
At Investigations §122, Wittgenstein emphasizes the importance of finding
and inventing intermediate cases. The German is Zwischenglieder and has
(much more than the English) the idea of links. We want cases that link up
0111 with ours, that connect with ours but are different, and that take away from
the case we are considering its capacity to send us in search of something
deeper and hidden from view. The importance of language-games partly like
ours, partly unlike ours, the importance of seeing our language-games as
4111 neighbored, as having nearby neighbors and neighbors very much further off,

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is that such neighbors let us see what we do. Wittgenstein says that what he
aims at is a perspicuous presentation of the use of our words. Perspicuity
here means: we can look at it, we can take it in philosophically, can find
ourselves again in that use of words, can see the problem we had had as one
problem, a cross-wise strip.11 Here there is the idea of a piecemeal approach
which is genuinely not in the shadow of Big Questions.

10 Criss-cross philosophy
In the Preface to the Investigations, Wittgenstein writes about his struggle to
force his thoughts into a ‘natural order’, without breaks. He uses the first
person singular in describing the struggle and his abandonment of it. He then
switches to the plural when he notes that it belongs to ‘the very nature of
the investigation’ that it compels us to travel over a wide field of thought
criss-cross in every direction. (It wasn’t just that he hadn’t been able to do
anything else.) His own struggle gives an indication of the difficulty here.
He had written of the importance of philosophy in ‘crosswise strips’ as early
as 1933, but the attempts he went on making to impose an order on his
thoughts show there to have been a continuing tension within his under-
standing of his own philosophical activity.12 He had had to learn from the
criss-cross character of the investigations as he was actually engaged in them
and the criss-cross path that the investigations took, from the fact that criss-
cross was the only way that he could operate without crippling his thought,
that criss-cross was not a failure or fault, not the best he could do where
someone else might do better, or where there was a better that could be
conceived of but that was unfortunately out of reach. He was able to break
off the struggle when he saw that the idea of something better than his criss-
cross sketches reflected a false conception of the nature of the investigation,
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of what it came to to attend to particular problems, this one and that one,
and what it came to to write a book that showed the progress of such an
investigation. What matters – for the path of the Investigations as much as
for the path of our investigations – is the kind of clarity that can come from
going criss-cross. I close with a quotation from Simon Glendinning’s
‘rewriting’ of part of §133, which helps brings that out.

We always say: ‘The real help here would be a map that would take
us from A to B in a direct line – the one that misses out the moun-
tains and forests.’ – Instead, I will take you another way. I have no
such map and we will stick to natural paths. But we should be able
to take some breaks along the way. – And one of the things we will
do, each time we get going along, is (in various ways) try to rid
ourselves of the idea that what we really need is a map that takes
us from A to B.
(Glendinning 2004: 162; cf. Glendinning 2002: 76, n. 3)13

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111 Notes
1 I wasn’t aware of the importance of this argument when I wrote Diamond (1988)
or (1995).
2 Some critics of Wittgenstein suggest that he made too much of the criticical term
11 ‘nonsensical’. But this criticism of Wittgenstein rests on the idea that he calls
certain sentences nonsensical because they fail to measure up to some special
standard or other. The criticism depends upon ascribing to Wittgenstein some
special notion of nonsensicality, over and above the ordinary idea of having,
perhaps unwittingly, failed to say anything. We can fail to think through what we
take ourselves to be saying; if we had, or had tried to, we might have recognized
011 an incoherence in our intentions. We might, e.g. not have decided whether to
mean one thing or another by some word; we might have left it unsettled which
meaning we wanted, although a clear look at both possibilities would have shown
us we did not really want to come down for either, or for anything else. This sort
3111 of phenomenon isn’t being labelled as ‘saying nothing’ on account of some
Tractatus doctrine about nonsensicality. The Tractatus point is rather that the
activity of attempted philosophical clarification can reveal to us that we have got
into that sort of position.
3 For a reading of the Tractatus which takes an opposed view of logical syntax,
see Hacker (2003). I discuss the issues raised by Hacker in Diamond (in prepa-
4 I did not make this point sufficiently clear in Introduction II to Diamond (1991:
0111 13–39). I did not there anticipate possible misunderstandings, and what I wrote
has been taken to mean that a ‘resolute’ interpretation of the Tractatus should
not be extended to (some or all of) Wittgenstein’s propositions about the nature
of language. The issue of a ‘resolute’ interpretation of the book should be sepa-
rated sharply from the question whether Wittgenstein had genuinely freed himself
from metaphysics in his thought about language. In fact, I think that propositions
like ‘Propositions are truth-functions of elementary propositions’ are particularly
good examples of propositions we are meant to be able to recognize to be plainly
nonsensical, to have no content, speakable or unspeakable. It is nevertheless
arguable that they are also excellent examples of how Wittgenstein had not freed
himself from a metaphysical conception of language.
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5 For a very interesting treatment of the issues in this paragraph, see Schulte (2002).
0111 6 See the ‘Introduction’ to Anscombe (1981: vii–x).
7 Compare PI §312. Here, too, Wittgenstein invites us to consider the possibility
of our distinguishing certain surfaces which have patches that produce pain when
we touch them.
8 The case, as I discuss it, is not meant to correspond to any specific reading, but
my description was guided in some respects by Michael Forster’s reading in
Forster (unpublished).
9 See also Wolfgang Freitag’s discussion of the issues here, in Freitag (B.Phil thesis,
Oxford University). He takes the reflexive character of philosophy as Wittgenstein
understood it to be central, where reflexivity would (in the case I was discussing)
involve treating ‘same sense’, ‘contradict’ and so on, not as terms whose appli-
0111 cation was determined by a kind of meta-account but as terms of our language,
like any others, the grammar of which we may need to attend to. I should also
mention that the role I have given above to complicatedness is meant to pick up
on ideas which are especially prominent in Wittgenstein’s Last Writings on the
Philosophy of Psychology, vol. II. I have discussed some of the issues in this
4111 paragraph in Diamond (1999) and Diamond (forthcoming).

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10 For a further discussion of the issues here, see Diamond (1989).

11 This reading of Wittgenstein on perspicuity is, in some respects, close to that of
G.P. Baker, criticized by P.M.S. Hacker in Hacker (2001: 346). Hacker dismisses
all such readings of Wittgenstein on perspicuity by appeal to Wittgenstein’s writ-
ings and lectures of the early 1930s. For a discussion of this view of the relevance
of Wittgenstein’s thinking about method in the early 1930s to his understanding
of philosophy in the Investigations, see Schulte (2002).
12 Again, see Schulte (2002) on the various strands in Wittgenstein’s conception of
his ‘method’.
13 This paper was read at the conference on Wittgenstein’s later philosophical
methods, in Venice in September 2002. I am very grateful for the helpful
comments and discussion on that occasion. I am also grateful for comments and
suggestions from James Conant.

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