Revisiting Wittgenstein

Posted by jerry on August 19th, 2007 — Posted in Journal, New media, Theory

I think it’s timely to revisit Wittgenstein – the early and the late – it terms of how do his views stand up in respect of new media and new media literacies.

“The world is all that is the case – the world is the totality of facts not of things”

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world”

Here in the Tractatus, Wittgenstein is setting out an extension of the phenomenological understanding of the world – ie as it presents itself to us – as a function of concepts, perhaps not independent of ‘world stuff’, but constrained by our understanding of that which presents itself to our senses.

In the later Philosophical Investigations (16 years after the Tractatus) Wittgenstein extends his views to speak of language in context and of non-linguistic thought and raises the question of the possibility of a private language, or a pre-linguistic one. “If I draw a person what do I mean by it?” At what point is meaning present? and is ‘meaning’ the same as ‘thought’?”

At this point, Wittgenstein acknowledges that one can mean without verbal language – that even an air-drawing may signify a person, and so he continues to problematise aspects of language as only one of many signifying systems. Moreover he speaks of the problem of perception and that what may be intended may not be what is conveyed – for example by the ambiguous drawing of a duck-rabbit – sometimes seen as one or the other – often depending on context – ie if pictured with a field of rabbits we see a rabbit, but if in a pond of ducks we see the duck. So he is identifying the limits of language – notably that each person’s experience causes them to comprehend something a little different from the same utterance as that of another.

In this sense, Wittgenstein is also acknowledging Saussure’s view that the assignation of meaning to signs in language is arbitrary.

Perhaps this underlines the importance of even the limited gestures available in SecondLife and other virtual worlds.

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