I'm Not Playing Games: Why Wittgenstein's Language-Games Fail to Defeat the Unity of Language
Cam Smith (Stanford University)

ABSTRACT: Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) has earned considerable notoriety for his potent challenges to what long stood as the most common and unproblematic of philosophical intuitions. For example, in his Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein famously attempts to undermine our likely assumption that, at least in principle, some unified account of what the word ‘language’ means must be available. Wittgenstein insists rather that, if we assume that there must be some unitary general account of what language is, then we are hindering our discovery of what language actually is. Wittgenstein tries to rectify this common apparent misunderstanding by using the unusual mechanics of an extremely basic language (or what he calls a “language-game”) to illustrate that some languages inevitably will frustrate all attempts to unveil a unified account of what language is. In this paper, I side with Rush Rhees, who denies that Wittgenstein’s language-games are effective in defeating the common view that a single unified account of language is unattainable. I outline three criticisms Rhees levels against Wittgenstein’s use of the notion of language-games. I then explain why I think that Rhees’ overall objection to Wittgenstein is correct.

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