The Blue and Brown Books

The Blue and Brown Books

These works, as the subtitle makes clear, are unfinished sketches for Philosophical Investigations, among the most important & influential philosophical work of modern times. The 'Blue Book' is a set of notes dictated to Witgenstein's Cambridge students in 1933-34. The 'Brown Book' was a draft for what eventually became the growth of the first part of Philosophical...

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Title:The Blue and Brown Books
Author:Ludwig Wittgenstein
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Edition Language:English

The Blue and Brown Books Reviews

  • Brian

    This is the perfect warm-up to the Investigations. I think a lot of the misunderstanding and lack of comprehension that a lot of people (including several published, "respectable" scholars) experience with PI is a direct result of their failure to start here. All the main concepts - language games, forms ogf life, etc. - are laid out in their earlier stages, and the break from his picture-theory stuff in the Tractatus is made explicit.

  • Nick Black

    Precursors to the more refined works published as the

    , these Cambridge lectures (for a counterpoint, see his

    ) reveal Wittgenstein's constant struggle to formulate the body of thought known as "Wittgenstein II" (ie, all that which followed the

    ). Fascinating reading for anyone who enjoyed the PI, although neither here nor in that later tome can the WII program be said to be "complete".

  • Taka

    A fun & illuminating romp through logic, language, & philosophy—

    It’s true, this is no easy read—some passages are awkwardly phrased and unnecessarily obscure, the flow from one topic to another is not always as smooth as you’d like it to be, and you wonder what Wittgenstein is trying to do with all those language games, what his overarching point is. But you sense him groping in the dark, trying to get at something important, and there are to be sure flashes of insight that will amaze

    A fun & illuminating romp through logic, language, & philosophy—

    It’s true, this is no easy read—some passages are awkwardly phrased and unnecessarily obscure, the flow from one topic to another is not always as smooth as you’d like it to be, and you wonder what Wittgenstein is trying to do with all those language games, what his overarching point is. But you sense him groping in the dark, trying to get at something important, and there are to be sure flashes of insight that will amaze you, or at least surprise you.

    In both Blue and Brown Books, Wittgenstein’s focus is on language: he believes that philosophical problems arise when ordinary language is applied to cases and situations not meant to be handled by it, and so the way to solve them is to analyze how language is used and get clear about what it is the philosophical problems and their myriad answers are really

    : “To show a man how to get out you have first of all to free him from the misleading influence of the question” (Brown, 169). In this clearing-up process, he touches on not only applied linguistics and logic but cognitive psychology, philosophy of the mind, and metaphysics, while at the same time offering, in a haphazard way as far as I’m concerned, solutions t the intractable problems in philosophy like solipsism, the problem of personal identity, the meaning of a word, qualia among others.

    Some of the insights found in these two notebooks are obscure and probably of no interest to the general public, but nonetheless interesting in their implications: the difference between logical and physical impossibility; the sort of philosophical observer effect where the observation of one’s own cognitive processes interfering with the processes themselves; the problem of rules (“is a rule incompletely explained if no rule for its usage has been given?” “We need have no reason to follow the rule as we do. The chain of reasons has an end” (Brown, 143).); the method of externalizing the cognitive processes to demystify what might be going on in the mind (a method used by Daniel Dennett in his seminal

    ); and most importantly, the nature of generalization where no specific examples belonging to the same generalized/conceptual category share exactly the same attributes (e.g., “We find that what connects all the cases of comparing is a vast number of overlapping similarities, and as soon as we see this, we feel no longer compelled to say that there must be some one feature common to them all” (Brown, 87)).

    For such a dense philosophical work, both notebooks are, comparatively speaking, a quick read. Or at least it’s a hell of a lot more accessible than his austere

    , a book that’s basically impenetrable (but beautiful in is own mysterious/mystical way, especially the end) unless you figure out what all those technical terms Wittgenstein uses really mean (and for that you probably need a guidebook or a teacher to help you out).

    One important feature of these notebooks is that it is in them that Wittgenstein’s celebrated “language games” appear for the first time. The Blue Book mentions them almost in passing, but in the Brown Book, they take on a prominent role in elucidating problems of language. He conjures up tribes and fantastic scenarios involving language use, turning the dials of premises ever so slightly each time to tease out facts and conclusions about language that may not be apparent at first. Most of them are bizarre and illuminating and actually fun to read (thus the name, “game” I suppose).

    But the language games are just the result of the same obsession that pervades the Blue Book, too: analyzing and acknowledging subtle degrees and fuzzy boundaries. And so against those whose impulse is to argue for clear-cut definitions of words, he says in the Blue Book: “Many words…don’t have a strict meaning. But this is not a defect. To think it is would be like saying that the light of my reading lamp is no real light at all because it has no sharp boundary” (Blue, 27). It is in this spirit, too, that he pronounces again and again in both notebooks the difficulty of pinning down precisely one common difference between two concepts/words/meanings because none of them admits of clear-cut boundaries, and so concepts like “voluntary” action and “involuntary” actions or “believing” and “not believing” can be different and also similar in myriad ways under different circumstances: “the pair ‘believing’/‘not believing’ refers to various differences in different cases (differences forming a family), not to one difference, that between the presence and the absence of a certain mental state’” (Brown, 152).

    In the same way language games stipulate intermediary cases to analyze language, the Blue and Brown Books sort of form intermediary steps in Wittgenstein’s philosophy between his earlier

    and his mature and almost complete work,

    .

    Overall, as the blurb on the back promises, this is a good introduction to Wittgenstein’s later work. And I now feel more equipped to tackle his monumental

    . Definitely recommended.

  • Mεδ Rεδħα

    These works, as the sub-title makes clear, are unfinished sketches for Philosophical Investigations, possibly the most important and influential philosophical work of modern times. The 'Blue Book' is a set of notes dictated to Witgenstein's Cambridge students in 1933-1934: the 'Brown Book' was a draft for what eventually became the growth of the first part of Philosophical Investigations. This book reveals the germination and growth of the ideas which found their final expression in

    These works, as the sub-title makes clear, are unfinished sketches for Philosophical Investigations, possibly the most important and influential philosophical work of modern times. The 'Blue Book' is a set of notes dictated to Witgenstein's Cambridge students in 1933-1934: the 'Brown Book' was a draft for what eventually became the growth of the first part of Philosophical Investigations. This book reveals the germination and growth of the ideas which found their final expression in Witgenstein's later work. It is indispensable therefore to students of Witgenstein's thought and to all those who wish to study at first-hand the mental processes of a thinker who fundamentally changed the course of modern philosophy.

    "Wittgenstein's later work, so long the privilege and possession of a few, is at last before the public at large. The so-called Blue and Brown Books, originally dictated to his students in Cambridge in the thirties, and circulated, not without precaution and secrecy, now follow the Investigations and the Remarks on Mathematics, and with this the openingup process is complete. The event is welcome: it is certain that we need more free discussion, rather than obscure reference to Wittgenstein's doctrines .... the Blue Book already announces all the main themes of the later Wittgenstein--so rich yet so intimately interlocked. Use and meaning and the fallacious 'name' theory; understanding and the mastery of a technique; rules, language-games and 'forms of life'; these doctrines, and the denial of 'private languages, ' fit together like the parts of a puzzle. This book, for the sake of its compactness, and something of a special zest that has been admired, may make it a good introduction to the later Wittgenstein .... it is only here [The Brown Book] that language-games and the problems of rules come into full prominence. And the importance of the latter cannot be over-emphasized; later philosophers have used the notion but rarely explored it as Wittgenstein did." -- David Pole, Philosophy "There could be no better introduction to Wittgenstein's thought than the Blue Book, whose simplicity and forthrightness must make aninstant appeal. The progressive complications of the Brown Book makea natural bridge to the still more subtle, but often confusing, exposition of the Investigations. Every serious student of philosophy will want to own this volume."-- Max Black"These studies have exercisedconsiderable influence on the development of contemporary English philosophy."

  • Rowland Pasaribu

    The Blue Book opens with the question, "what is the meaning of a word?" When asking such general questions, we often define words by thinking of of solid, material objects, like pencils, chairs, and tables. These words can be defined ostensively, by pointing to the object they denote. We might then be tempted to think that the meaning of these words is the mental act of interpretation that connects the word with the thing it denotes. Wittgenstein asserts that, contrary to conventional wisdom,

    The Blue Book opens with the question, "what is the meaning of a word?" When asking such general questions, we often define words by thinking of of solid, material objects, like pencils, chairs, and tables. These words can be defined ostensively, by pointing to the object they denote. We might then be tempted to think that the meaning of these words is the mental act of interpretation that connects the word with the thing it denotes. Wittgenstein asserts that, contrary to conventional wisdom, the meaning of a word is determined by its use in language. If these mental acts that supposedly determine meaning are simply a matter of operating with signs, we could just as well say that thinking and meaning can be done on paper, or with the voice box.

    Wittgenstein introduces the idea of a language game, a more primitive form of language that helps us highlight certain features of our own language. We can construct a variety of different language games, each with distinctive features. Philosophers usually shun this approach out of what Wittgenstein calls a "craving for generality": they want to discuss the general features of language rather than its particulars. This craving encourages the misconception that every word has a single, fixed meaning.

    We are tempted to think that a spoken word needs interpretation (we need to be told what it means), but that its meaning does not require any interpretation. This is false, just as it is false to think that while we need to follow a particular rule to behave in a particular way, we do not need a further rule to interpret that rule. There is no clear reason why every word must be connected to its meaning in our mind. Words are not inherently related to the things they denote.

    Metaphysical claims often try to make general statements about the nature of things, like "everything is in flux." But the words "in flux" can only have meaning when contrasted with their opposite, "stable." If we say that everything is in flux, the term "in flux" loses its meaning. Wittgenstein talks about solipsism, the view that "only I exist." The solipsist encounters a problem in trying to make overall claims about the nature of experience. If she claims "only what I see is really seen," she empties the word "see" of meaning, because she uses the word incorrectly. Such a claim can only amount to an appeal for a new notation, a redefinition of the word "see." It cannot state any metaphysical discoveries about the nature of experience.

    The first part of the Brown Book consists of a series of language games. Wittgenstein uses these games to highlight the different forms of expression, and to point out that although we may think all words share something in common because they can all be expressed as written signs, there actually have very little in common. For instance, the words "chair," "one," and "this," are not similar.

    Throughout the Brown Book, Wittgenstein examines words like "recognize," "compare," "believe," "read," "understand," and so on, to show that there is no common feature of all the different uses of these words. Rather, there is a family resemblance. Certain uses of a word may share certain features with others, just as members of the same family might have certain features in common. This line of reasoning shows us that these words have no single fixed meaning, but only a number of loosely related uses.

    If we accept that individual orders must be interpreted according to some sort of rule, we must also accept that rules themselves need to be interpreted. For instance, if in reading items from a printed table, I need to understand the rule that we correspond different columns by reading left to right, I may also need a rule to tell me how to correspond different columns by reading left to right, and so on. Sometimes I can read off a table without referring to any general rule about how to read tables. That rule needn't always be present in my mind.

    There are many uses of the word "can," some of which refer to what someone has done, some of which only refer to a potential for future action. We should not be misled by grammar into thinking that the present tense of "can" denotes a state of the person we are talking about. Similarly, we should not be misled by grammar into thinking of the past and the future as things that have passed or are yet to come, and then puzzle about where the past goes to. Wittgenstein's discussion of "can" also leads to some reflections of reading and on the expression, "I can go on," in both cases showing that there is no distinct process that is present in all uses of these expressions.

    Part II of the Brown Book focuses primarily on the idea of seeing something as something else, and on the idea that there must be a feeling of similarity when we use the same word in two different contexts. It makes sense to see a bunch of squiggles as a face, but it does not make sense to see a pencil as a pencil, because there is no real alternative.

    We should not think that there is a single, paradigmatic use of a word that all other uses are compared to. If I talk about one vowel being "darker" than another vowel, I needn't be comparing vowels to colors. Similarly, there need not be a paradigmatic "feeling" that is present whenever I mean or believe what I say. The meaning of a word is simply a matter of how we use it, and not a matter of identifying it with other objects or paradigmatic cases. There is not a standard outside of language that language must compare itself to.

  • Erik Graff

    Unlike most graduate students I maintained a four year teaching assistantship inclusive of summers, most of it with one fellow, Bill Ellos. Although I occasionally worked for others in the philosophy and linguistics departments, these were usually part-time, supplements to my association with Bill. Heck, I may have worked for or with him even during months when not formally assigned. I certainly worked far more hours for and with him than were mandated--not that I knew anything of any time limit

    Unlike most graduate students I maintained a four year teaching assistantship inclusive of summers, most of it with one fellow, Bill Ellos. Although I occasionally worked for others in the philosophy and linguistics departments, these were usually part-time, supplements to my association with Bill. Heck, I may have worked for or with him even during months when not formally assigned. I certainly worked far more hours for and with him than were mandated--not that I knew anything of any time limit until towards the end of those four years.

    Bill was a Jesuit who never wore the garb, who didn't want to be identified as a priest. His primary interests in coming to Loyola University Chicago were Wittgenstein, the subject of his dissertation, and medical ethics. Other than editing some of his writing, most of what he had me do was read. Thanks to him I read all of Darwin's major works, Wallace's two most remembered books, a bunch of Scottish philosophers of the 18th century, some sociobiology and most of Wittgenstein. Although he had me take notes on topics of ostensible interest to him, I suspect a lot of this was constructive make-work. In any case, I enjoyed most of the work and was turned on to topics and persons I probably would not otherwise have so thoroughly studied.

    This "book" is really just a bunch of class notes, substantially recorded by others, relevant to what came to be known as the Philosophical Investigations. Important to any Wittgenstein scholar, they are certainly not something to recommend to the general reader. For that, go to the texts the author intended for publication. (A number of philosophers have made their careers out of producing books based on such notes, on scribblings, on purported utterances of the great man--frankly, I never understood why he should have been taken so seriously except, of course, by way of self-interest and because he's pretty easy to follow.)

    Ironically, although never greatly impressed by Wittgenstein, my only conference publication in a philosophy journal was about the development of his thinking, the result of Bill Ellos encouraging me to sign up for a conference and even helping me to find funding for the trip. Indeed, throughout my first four years at Loyola Bill was the one and only professor who took any substantial interest in promoting my career and for that I am ever grateful.

  • Chad S.

    First off, let me say, I would not recommend this book to those who are just entering the world of philosophy. If you're just getting into philosophy, this is not the book for you. With that said, I believe that anyone who has a serious interest in the discipline can benefit from reading this book. The Brown and Blue Books represent Wittgenstein's latter work, and acts as a good introduction to his Philosophical Investigations. If you're looking for the thoughts of the early Wittgenstein, please

    First off, let me say, I would not recommend this book to those who are just entering the world of philosophy. If you're just getting into philosophy, this is not the book for you. With that said, I believe that anyone who has a serious interest in the discipline can benefit from reading this book. The Brown and Blue Books represent Wittgenstein's latter work, and acts as a good introduction to his Philosophical Investigations. If you're looking for the thoughts of the early Wittgenstein, please refer to his Tractatus instead. The book is roughly 187 pages; those acquainted with the rigor of prose found in philosophy will know that this reading is not as light as what one may think. I found myself really excited about the material in the beginning, but thought that the examples he used to illustrate certain points became redundant. Perhaps by doing this he elucidated other points in which furthered his arguments, but if he did, I didn't pick up on them. He focuses a lot on the analysis of particular words and their usages, drawing attention to how words do not have a clear definition, and that their definitions can never be divorced from their contexts. He calls these "language-games." In addition, he refutes his previous endorsement of the "picture theory of meaning" in which he advocated in his previous works; the idea being, that certain words have corresponding images that we think of when we talk about them. Furthermore in the last quarter of the book he talks about the mystery behind meaning. I'll leave that to the reader to interpret for themselves. Overall, I was happy I took the time to read it. The book was definitely worth getting through, if anything it widened my knowledge of Wittgenstein's thought and natural language philosophy. I recommend this to anyone who is intrigued by words and their power, the thought of Wittgenstein, modern philosophy, and the meaning behind words. I do not recommend this to anyone who is afraid of redundant examples, those who are new to philosophy, those who do not wish to expand their definition of "philosophy," and to dogs (because they can't read).

  • Phillip Ross

    Reading Wittgenstein put an end to my interest in philosophy. If philosophy is about the kinds of language games that Wittgenstein played, it wasn't worth my time.

  • Peter

    These companion studies help with reading his more 'organized' Logical Investigations because they situate the reader with respect to the project. What I have to say about these studies is not terribly important and maybe even inappropriate. After all who reads the mood of a philosopher? But every effort at 'essential definition' seemed to bother LW a great deal. Such definitions were the sort of thing after which Socrates was always asking. But I cannot understand what it means when I am asked

    These companion studies help with reading his more 'organized' Logical Investigations because they situate the reader with respect to the project. What I have to say about these studies is not terribly important and maybe even inappropriate. After all who reads the mood of a philosopher? But every effort at 'essential definition' seemed to bother LW a great deal. Such definitions were the sort of thing after which Socrates was always asking. But I cannot understand what it means when I am asked for that definition of a chair which produces every chair and does not miss one. There is nothing mysterious about the question at all. The mode of research simply does not mean anything to someone who is attentive to the grammar of the request. What one means by 'chair' is a matter of grammar. Grammar is usage. Grammar is what connects words together. does the sense of a sentence belong to grammar? Or does grammar run along behind naming the particularity of kind. 'Kind' and 'category' are great mysteries. And I wonder if such pronouncements irritate LW as unthinking? That he believes the mystery that belongs to language should be dismissed so as not to blind thinking to its proper task which is the working out of complexity. From what is simple to what is complex. From language games to language. It is as if he imagines that it is a failing of man that he is saddled with a way to be that is mystical or magical. All I mean is that when I ask you for an apple, I am speaking of apples. There is no grammar. LW is not kind to the original condition of language which is transparent. When language is most like what it is, it articulates what is there. Is that what he means by live language? Originally there is no such thing as a primitive language and so no such thing as a language game. There is only language. Does that matter?

  • William West

    These studies and the work they gave rise to, Philosophical Investigations, are commonly understood as a refutation of the author's previous major work, Tractatus Logic-Philosophic us. I didn't read the Blue and Brown Books as a refutation, as much as a correction, of the system of thought at work in the Tractatus.

    That earlier work, as I read it, contained some troublingly bizarre implications and assumptions. It at times seemed to me that Wittgenstein was implying that linguistic information,

    These studies and the work they gave rise to, Philosophical Investigations, are commonly understood as a refutation of the author's previous major work, Tractatus Logic-Philosophic us. I didn't read the Blue and Brown Books as a refutation, as much as a correction, of the system of thought at work in the Tractatus.

    That earlier work, as I read it, contained some troublingly bizarre implications and assumptions. It at times seemed to me that Wittgenstein was implying that linguistic information, being understood, could not be refuted- as if our ideas about things never change, or as if a statement could never be doubted- as if lying (on one hand) or misunderstanding (on the other) were not common occurrences, and if we shouldn't then, take such situations into consideration when interrogating the nature of communication and knowledge. The Blue and Brown Books brilliantly address such concerns about the line of thought at work in the Tractatus.

    If we are to understand the workings of language, Wittgenstein argues, we must not ask “what does 'x' mean?” but rather “how does 'x' mean?” Signs, Wittgenstein asserts, can only operate according to the rules a linguistic system imposes. Unfortunately, the rules of our grammar have the effect of misleading us as to language's real nature. Our grammar constantly operates metaphorically. The metaphors are so omni-present that we speakers have come to take them as literal identifiers. The statement “I think of 'x',” implies that the sign is a translation of something in our heads that exists analogously to the sign. We users of language are thus led to believe there must be an intermediary step between thought and expression.

    Thus, grammar leads us to believe that we can apply a term such as “similar” to what our very language designates as different. To use a simple example, Wittgenstein points out that what language designates as “different” colors- torqouis, ocean, blue-green, are commonly considered “similar” in that they are sub-categories of “blue.” This implies that there is a unifying concept of “blue” that exists in thought prior to expression. Language then, seeks to express the “thought”- the static, abstract truth that precedes it, and this manifests itself in the metaphysical impulse in philosophy.

    In place of this inherently futile project, Wittgenstein prescribes replacing our concept of “thought” with the expression itself, the sign. Our statements, rather than attempts to give socialized form to some inner, spiritual truth, some inference to knowledge, are rather descriptions of knowledge. Words describe what can be known by revealing themselves. Of course, words have no concrete, changeless meaning. They demonstrate their meaning within their contextual use, just as the move of a chess piece across a board has one special significance within its context within an individual match. Thought, the use of language, can describe the way it functions but it can never explain why it functions the way that it does.

    The question remains, however, how language, which demonstrates its functionality through its very implementation, can be used to intentionally mislead about things other than its own nature. Wittgenstein's radical response is that lying isn't altogether possible in the sense of completely misleading another person. A lye never completely misleads precisely because it is understood by the addressee, whether or not the addressee believes the statement to be true. No matter what the speaker's intention, they have necessarily revealed themselves to the addressee through the gesture of meaning that they perform. The speaker has made her/his “move.” To truly mislead the addressee, the speaker would have to adopt a private language- another inherently self-defeating project.

    Still, the fact remains that the term “lying” can be successfully implemented. What can we be referring to by describing a statement as a lye other than the way we feel when we make a statement we consider to be “untrue” as opposed to what we feel when we make a statement we consider to be “true”? Such feelings, and the gestures and tonalities that sometimes accompany them, Wittgenstein calls “modes of expression.” But these “feelings” these “truths behind the lies” can only be conveyed through more words. What, then, of the private- the emotional and sentimental? Where is their place in thought? Of these topics, it appears, we must remain silent.

    I rank the Books as a masterpiece of philosophical execution. They are magnificently inventive in their models. But I am not convinced that they are so groundbreaking. In switching his focus from the irrefutability of the understood to its implementation, it seems to me Wittgenstein presents a different perspective on the philosophical landscape of the Tractatus than an actually new landscape.

    Also, Wittgenstein essentially argues that meaning is composed of arbitrarily applied signifiers that attain meaning only within the systematic play of context. This sounds, to me, a lot like the ideas expounded in Saussure's Course in General Linguistics, published twenty years prior to the writing of these studies. However, in providing a clear and level-headed response to the question, “If language is the source of all knowledge, can thought still conceivably precede expression?” in the form of “conceivably, but not necessarily,” Wittgenstein provides a model of how to approach the subject that makes unnecessary the theoretical bickering over how to follow the implications of Saussure's work that characterized much of the “structuralist vs. post-structuralist” controversies.

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