Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein, (26 April 1889 - 29 April 1951) was a Austrian philosopher.
Philosophy of Psychology
The second part of Philosophical Investigations contains analysis of some psychological phenomena such as "aspect seeing".
Aspect seeing is the ability to see one thing in multiple ways. An example used by Wittgenstein in Philosophical Investigations is that we can see the "duckrabbit" either as a duck or as a rabbit.
One of the ways we can become bewitched by language is that we can come to think that there must be such a thing as "THE meaning" of words and sentences. If we fall into making this assumption then it is easy to imagine that there exists the possibility of having some kind of database containing the meaning of every word and that to understand a sentence all you have to do is use that database to find the meaning of all the words in the sentence. However, words are like the "duckrabbit". One word can easily be "seen" to have two meanings.
Just as we can see the "duckrabbit" as either a duck or a rabbit, we can mentally construct many subtle meanings for a single word depending on the context of that word. Rather than imagine that there is a fixed meaning for any word, we can view words as tools that we use socially to activate certain elements of memory so as to allow us to share common patterns of thought. Each time we make use of a word, it goes to work and shapes a new meaning in each listener according to past experiences of the listener and the current context of the word's use.
The "duckrabbit" and aspect seeing are iconic of Wittgenstein's philosophy and his shift from the idealistic theory of the Tractatus to the realistic investigations of human language found in Philosophical Investigations. One of the great dangers we face in making use of our minds is getting trapped in only being able to see the world in one way. Wittgenstein's experience of first seeing language in terms of an over-simplified formal and logical system and then later being able to liberate himself from that view is one of the great intellectual adventures of 20th century philosophy.
- Note: The Language Journal has an article about Wittgenstein that needs peer review.
- "Way is obscured when men understand only one of a pair of opposites, or concentrate only a partial aspect of being. Then clear expression also becomes muddied by mere wordplay, affirming this one aspect and denying the rest." - Zhuangzi