By A. J. AYER
!THE Blue and Brown Books* are transcripts
of notes which Wittgenstein dictated to his pupils at Cambridge during the academic years 1933-34 and 1934-35. They took their names from the colours of the folders in which the master copies were enclosed. Professor Malcolm says in his memoir of Wittgenstein] that they were widely read by British philosophers, but this is an exag- geration. They were in fact treated as esoteric documents, allegedly at Wittgenstein's own insistence, and outside Cambridge they did not circulate at all freely. To the best of my recollec- tion, it was several years before they made their way to Oxford, and then those of us who were allowed to read them were put on our honour not to make copies for ourselves. They now appear for the first time in book form, united in a single volume with a preface by Mr. Rush Rhees. He and his fellow editors are much to be congratu- lated on making them generally available. They are described on the title page as 'preliminary studies for the Philosophical Investigations' and one of their great merits is that they make the Investigations very much more intelligible. The themes are the same, but the presentation of them, especially in the Blue Book, has a liveliness and freshness, even a clarity, which the Investigations lacks. In my opinion, this is one of those instances in which the preliminary sketches are aesthetically more successful than the resulting picture: the picture has suffered from the painter's unwilling- fiess or inability to stop retouching it. As com- pared with the English version of Wittgenstein's Other published works, these Blue and Brown Books gain something also from the fact that they are not translations. Apart from a very few corrections which the editors have made the English is Wittgenstein's own. It has the energy and fluency of the English' which he spoke.
Of the two works, the Blue Book is the earlier, the more loosely constructed and the shorter : it occupies only seventy-four pages out of the 185 which make up the volume. It is, however, alsp the more interesting and I think that it has, directly or indirectly, been the more influential. Philoso- phers who have never read it before, or have for- gotten its contents, may be surprised to discover how rich a source it is of ideas that others have since taken up. It opens with the question 'What is the meaning of a word?' which Wittgenstein at once transforms into the question 'What is the
explanation of the meaning of a word?' And this question is answered, as is now well known, by giving a description of the ways in which the word is used. The common fallacy of supposing that the * THE 13i.HE. MVP BROWN .BOOKS.. By Ludwig Witt- genstein. (Basil Blackwell, 25s.) t Luowi WI ITGENS I IAN : A MEMOIR. By Norman Malcolm : with a Biographical Sketch by Georg Henrik von Wright. (0.U.P., 12s. 6d.)
meaning of a sign is a mental image, which alone enables us to recognise the object to which the sign applies, is exposed by calling attention to what actually happens when, for example, we carry out such an order as 'fetch me a red flower from that meadow.' We might use a mental picture but nor- mally we do not. 'We go, look about us, walk up to a flower and pick it, without comparing it to anything. To see that the process of obeying the order can be of this kind, consider the order "imagine a red patch." You are not tempted in this case to think that before obeying you must have imagined a red patch to serve you as a pattern for the red patch which you were ordered to imagine.'
In the same spirit, Wittgenstein argues that it is a serious mistake to suppose that words like 'wish- ing,"thinking,"understanding,"meaning' stand for specific mental acts. By examining the uses that we actually make of such words we may succeed in freeing ourselves from 'the temptation to look for a peculiar act of thinking, independent of the act of expressing our thoughts, and stowed away in sonic peculiar medium.' We may come to recog- nise that 'the experience of thinking may be just the experience of saying, or may consist of this experience plus others which accompany it.' And these accompanying experiences, or actions, may be of many different sorts. When we consider typical examples in which someone would be described as having understood something, or as wishing for something, we do not find that there is one common element which they necessarily con- tain. To suppose that there must be such a com- mon element, for the word to be applicable, is to yield to the philosopher's .misplaced 'craving for generality.' Philosophy, as Wittgenstein here prac- tises it, is largely an attempt to destroy such prejudices. It is 'a fight against the fascination which forms of expression exert upon us.'
One who has strikingly succumbed to this fascination is the solipsist who thinks that he is logically bound to attribute experiences only to himself. In the latter half of the Blue Book. Witt- genstein tries to deal with this case. He points out that the solipsist is not making an empirical state- ment: he is not saying that as a matter of fact he alone can see, that everyone else is blind. Rather, he is making it 'a point of logic that he alone really sees. But suppose that we humour him : suppose that we modify our usage so that when other people see anything, they are said just to see it, but when Smith, the solipsist, sees some- thing he is said really to see it; and similarly with the rest of Smith's experiences. Then to say that Smith alone really has experiences will just be a way of saying that Smith alone has Smith's experiences : and if, as the solipsist assumes, it is a necessary fact that experiences are not shared, this will be a mere tautology. At which point the solipsist will protest that this is not what he means. But then we see that what he is trying to say is meaningless. Wittgenstein attempts to bring out the reasons one might have for trying to say it by playing with the notion of personal identity. He considers how we should conceive of it if we were all like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, or if our memor- ies on the even days of our lives were confined to the events of other even days and skipped the odd ones, or if all human bodies looked alike but 'dif• ferent sets of characteristics seemed, as it were to change their habitation' among them : he imagines circumstances in which one person might be said to feel pain not in a part of his own body but in someone else's. I do not myself find that these speculations take the sting out of this grout) of problems, but they are highly stimulating and suggestive.
By comparison, the Brown Book makes more sober reading. It is much nearer in tone to the Investigations and employs the same technique of allowing the argument to thread its way through multitude of examples. It is divided into two parts of which the first is very largely taken up with series of descriptions of what Wittgenstein called 'language games.' As in the. Investigations, he begins with a very simple language which is used for communication between a builder and his marl; The language consists only of the words 'cube, 'brick,"slate,' 'column' and when the builder calls out one of these words his man brings a stone .; Of a certain shape. In the next language, numerals are added; then demonstratives like 'this' and 'there,' then proper names. Further on, the order of words becomes significant : tables of instrue' tions are provided which can be read in different ways; there are games in which time is involved, and games which are played not with a limited set of numerals but with the endless series. There is much discussion of what is to be understood by following a rule. Mr. Rhees draws attention in his preface to the fact that Wittgenstein says that to regards these language games 'not as incomplete parts of a language, but as languages complete in themselves.' But I suppose that their point Is 10 bring out the various ways in which the words of our actual language function.
The second part of the Brown Book is eon'
cerned with such questions as what it is to see something as something, for example, to see ti scribble as a face, or what is the difference between reading with and without understanding, or be' tween voluntary and involuntary behaviour. Once again we are warned not to assume that the
• difference must consist in the presence or absence of a particular mental act.
Professor von Wright and Professor Make° both knew Wittgenstein very well and their biographical account's of him Make 'a fascinating volume. Professor von Wright contributes a shiart • but very interesting sketch of Wittgenstein's life and a perceptive assessment of his character' Professor Malcolm's memoir is much more Per. sonal. He sets out very simply, almost naively' what he learnt and enjoyed and suffered as Wilt' genstein's disciple and friend. Though he tells ' some engaging stories, as when Wittgenstein Bald to him that 'it did not much matter what he fteof so long as it was always the same,' the picture ot Wittgenstein that emerges from this account is d " an altogether attractive one. ,It shows that., he tended to be distrustful of his friends, especrily ing if they could in any way be suspected of wishing to purloin his ideas, and that he could treat theirs a 1
very harshly. Perhaps his genuine warmth .e!
ing came out more strongly in his friendshipsylith I •:5
those who were not his philosophical discIP
What no one who ever knew him will questionil the magnetism of his personality, his moral e! intellectual sincerity, and the passionate inter's't); of his regard for truth.