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Rationality and Madness Wittgenstein on the logic and evolution of new language games

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© Hans Rudi Fischer
Rationality and Madness
Wittgenstein on the logic and evolution of new language games
Hans Rudi Fischer, Heidelberg
When I joined the university clinic at Heidelberg (in 1984) in order to study the communication of patients who
had been defined as mentally ill, I soon realised that the standards of rationality factually prevailing in a society
were set by psychiatry, with its distinction between health and disease. The form of rationality determined
theoretically in and by philosophy is pragmatically implemented by psychiatry. Immanuel Kant, in his
Anthropologie in pragmatischer Hinsicht
, already designated mental illnesses as "illnesses of the head", as
"afflictions of the cognitive powers", as reason in disorder. And because these illnesses affected the "cognitive
faculties", Kant claimed that the "cure of folly" was the competence of the philosopher. He thus implicitly assigned
philosophy a therapeutic function. Even earlier, the physician and philosopher John Locke had, like Kant,
characterised madness in a fairly modern way as 'mental disorder', as something affecting the order of thought.
Centuries ago, therefore, the idea of ordered thought already focussed what we today still consider to be the core of
rationality (cf. Fischer 1987). This conception of rationality takes its directions from logic and its "formal laws of
thought", i.e. the rules of inference of logic and its categories true/false. From Descartes via Locke to Hegel people
are considered mad or crazy if they believe false premises to be true or derive the wrong conclusion from true
premises (cf. Fischer 1989). Mad persons seem to lack the logical tidiness that we call rationality, instead they
seem to manifest irrationality as a sort of logic in disarray. The psychiatric establishment shares the view of
philosophical logicians that the "rules of thought" represent fundamental principles of rationality and, consequently,
speaks of "disturbed thought". Karl Jaspers, who taught psychiatry at the university clinic in Heidelberg before
getting a chair in philosophy, in his influential
Allgemeine Psychopathologie
introduced the hermeneutic dichotomy
of explanation vs. understanding into psychopathology. As a consequence, the so-called mental illnesses were
excluded from the moral sciences ("Geisteswissenschaften"), they were defined as "illnesses of the head", i.e. as
organic diseases, and made the object of the methods of natural science. The products of madness, the language
and communication of the insane, were thus relegated to the a-semantic domain of scientific explanation; they were
judged to be incomprehensible in principle. Wittgenstein - as we know now - originally wanted to become a
psychiatrist himself. Fortunately philosophy won, but the topic of mental illness remained virulent throughout his
life, as is shown both by his personal notes and the fact that he had conversations with "mad people" in the late
forties. His conception of philosophy as a therapy of disorders of thought is not least inspired by motives of self-
therapy; it is an attempt to confront his problems on a meta-level. In the course of his critical analysis of
psychologism in logic as well as of the question of whether disordered thought involved another kind of logic,
another kind of heterogeneous regularity, Wittgenstein cast light on the discursive darkness of psychopathology like
Published in German (1999): Rationalität als offene Ordnung. Zur Logik und Evolution neuer Sprachspiele: In: Hans J. Schneider und
Matthias Kroß,
Mit Sprache spielen. Die Ordnungen und das Offene nach Wittgenstein
. Berlin 1999, Akademie Verlag, S. 149-168, Lecture
given at the Einstein Forum, Potsdam, 29.11.1996. Published in Spanish: Hans Rudi Fischer (2010): Racionalidad y locura: Wittgenstein
sobre la lógica y la evolución de nuevos juegos de lenguaje. In: El Yo amenazado. Ensayos sobre Wittgenstein y el sinsentido. Ed by Jose
Maria Arioso. Biblioteca Nueva, Madrid, 2010, ISBN 978-84-9940-067-9.
© Hans Rudi Fischer
no other philosopher before him. From the perspective of his late philosophy and its anti-fundamenta- list idea of a
plurality of language games and corresponding logics, a sort of discursivity is created which no longer has to
exclude the heterogeneous in order to constitute itself. This is the focus through which I seek to develop
Wittgenstein's approach. My aim is a hermeneutic logic that does not exclude "deranged thought" (and action) as
irrational but considers it to be a form of discursivity which is essentially comprehensible. First of all I should like
to show, through the critical analysis of his conception of logic in the
how Wittgenstein comes to develop
the idea of a plurality of logics in his late philosophy. Wittgenstein's early view of language as a closed system
resting on a timeless, invariant foundation called logic changes into a conception of language as a time-bound,
culturally shaped, and essentially open, system of signs. In due course, the
tertium non datur
separating what is
thinkable because of its logical foundation, and what is unthinkable, is eliminated, and the idea of a transition from
one logical order to another is therefore acceptable. In the first part of the article, I shall use the logical
fundamentalism of Wittgensteins
Tractatus logico-philosophicus
to show that a logic-bound, conception of
rationality leads to the construction of a closed and unambiguous system by means of mechanisms of exclusion,
which does not admit of intentionality, change, ambiguity, contextuality etc. In the second part I shall show, on the
basis of Wittgenstein's philosophy of grammar, that rationality rests on rules that may be subjected to change, and
that this approach makes alternative logics not only thinkable but also accessible.
, or rationality as a closed/determinate system: logical fundamentalism
Logic plays a fundamental role in the traditional characterisation of man/woman as
animal rationale
. Its forms
(the logical "laws") provide the framework within which humans think and reach conclusions that are called
rational. This conception of logic as a kind of super-framework of rationality is developed by Wittgenstein in his
. In particular, he wants to draw a line within language which separates the essentially meaningful from
the definitely meaningless. Basically, his project concerns human cognitive activities, what we call thinking, and
rational thinking, if it obeys certain rules. In his efforts to achieve his aim, Wittgenstein focusses on language
because he takes it to be the expression of thought. In the
, thinking and speaking are seen as logically
equivalent, and thinking itself is understood to be a symbolic process, so that the bounds of symbolism are the
bounds of thought.
The metaphor of language as the "house of being" (Heidegger) raises the question on what
foundation this structure is built. The foundation upon which Wittgenstein wants to set his distinction or boundary
line between the thinkable, language, and the unthinkable or meaningless, is logic with its operators, laws and
"statements"/"propositions". Like classical logic, Wittgenstein's early logic stands outside time, forms an absolute,
static, timeless framework of what is thinkable, on the one hand, and of language, on the other. According to
Wittgenstein's transcendental interpretation, logic is an onto-logic, i.e. it does not only give order to thought and
Cf.:"Does not my study of sign-language correspond to the study thought-processes, which philosophers used to consider so essential to the
philosophy of logic?" (T,. 4.1121) In NB Wittgenstein notes under 12/9/16: "Now it is becoming clear why I thought that thinking and
language were the same. For thinking is a kind of language. For a thought
is, of course, a logical picture of the proposition, and
therefore it just is a kind of proposition." In a letter addressed to B.Russell he writes; "The main point is the theory of what can be expressed
(gesagt) by prop(osition)s -i.e. by language -(and ,which comes to the same, what can be
) and what can not be expressed by
prop(osition)s." (L, 71) In his
Philosophical Investigations,
30 years later, we find: "[...] the language is itself the vehicle of thought." (PI,
© Hans Rudi Fischer
language, but also to the world and its linguistic appropriation.
This connection between language and world is
justified by a mapping function relating linguistic sign and referent: "If sign and thing signified were
identical in
respect of their total logical content then there would have to be something still more fundamental than logic."
(NB, 4.9.14). The propositions of logic are
, i.e. they cannot be justified by more fundamental
premises or axioms of some sort (T, 6.123). The philosophy of logic contained in the
may, for my
purposes, be reduced to the following essential points. Logic, i.e. the propositions of logic, are
(1) a static phenomenon of timeless validity, which implies
(2) that they are invariant, independent of all development,
a priori
immune to change;
(3) that they are necessary in a way excluding all contingency ("The only necessity that exists is
"(T, 6.37, 6.3));
(4) that they are complete in the sense of closed, i.e. no new logical propositions (laws) may be added and no given
ones discarded;
(5) that they are tautological in character and, therefore, not subject to the true/false dichotomy of empirical
(6) that the pivotal point of the intersubjectivity of ordinary language is its logical structure.
Language as the "house of being" is, therefore, based upon, and rests upon, logic as its
fundamentum inconcussum
This architectural metaphor is to be taken seriously: it implies a logical hierarchy. Consequently, whatever is
contingent, changes, is empirically describable, new, i.e. the statements of science which represent experience and
knowledge, is located on another logical level. The logically subordinate descriptive propositions which follow the
logical structure of the meta-level, are not affected by the constraints above; here the propositional theory of the
allows for variance, change and transformation. This is also made clear, for example, by the "contextual
principle" [Zusammenhangsprinzip] in proposition 3.3 adapted from Frege, which is of importance in
Wittgenstein's late philosophy, and which formulates the doctrine of the priority of the proposition over its
components, the words. On the basis of the distinction between the sense of the proposition and the meaning of
words, Wittgenstein, in this early form of his contextualism, considers a proposition to be the function of its
components. The name (word) in isolation from its proposition has, therefore, no meaning because it lacks logical
form, it is "unsaturated". The contextual principle in the algorithmic/computational model of the
functions as a principle of composition for the semantic construction of new propositions and, in addition, solves
the problem of linguistic creativity. On this level of language, therefore, variation, transformation and change are
possible. From the point of view of the theory of logical types one may say that Wittgenstein localises logical
propositions on a higher plane than all other propositions. In contrast to the spatial metaphor of the foundation,
where logic stands at the bottom, I would want to place the logical propositions on a meta-level in relation to the
descriptive statements of the
. The meaningful descriptive statements then belong to the first order, the
logical propositions to the second order. Ignoring this logical type difference leads to philosophical confusion. The
Wittgenstein later criticises this position which was, of course, his own in the
: "'Mathematical logic' has completely deformed
the thinking of mathematicians and of philosophers, by setting up a a superficial interpretation of the forms of our everyday language as an
analysis of the structures of facts. Of course in this it has only continued to build on in the Aristotelian logic." (RFM, 300)
This is also the position of the young Heidegger: "The logical is a static phenomenon which stands outside all development and change, i.e.
which does not become and grow but is simply valid." (Heidegger 1972, 120)
© Hans Rudi Fischer
statements of logic or of grammar must not be misunderstood as empirical statements, otherwise language
"feasts"/"feiert" (cf. PI, 38). Logic must here be understood as a kind of "cognitive map" which mirrors the
structure of the territory, of the world, in thought. And it is also important to pay attention here to the logical type
difference between map and territory, a mistake that is repeatedly shown up by Wittgenstein later, when
grammatical statements are interpreted empirically and so apparently express metaphysical truths. The interim
balance of my considerations so far may be stated as follows: The early Wittgenstein places logical structures, i.e.
what in his late philosophy might be called the system of description or the system of coordinates, on a logically
"higher" level than the propositions
that system of description. The second logical level is immune to change,
transformation is only possible on the first logical level. The line Wittgenstein draws between the thinkable, the
meaningful, on the one side, and the unthinkable, the meaningless or the irrational, on the other, is still rigid in the
, both sides remain disjoined with the
tertium non datur
in force. There is no way of crossing the dividing
line in this binary cosmos. How far removed such a conception of logic is from actual language usage and actual
thinking, becomes clear already in the discussion of intentional statements which present a problem for the
because they resist any easy subsumption under either logical or descriptive statements. I should like to
deal briefly with Wittgenstein's exclusion of intentionality from the
because it can be integrated into his
later conception of linguistic logic.
The elimination of intentional statements from the language of the Tractatus
Statements of the form "A believes, A knows, A thinks that p" etc., completed, for example, as "I believe it will
rain", are to be understood as psychological statement forms, as statements of an "internal", i.e. psychological state
of A, B, C,..., namely their beliefs, their thoughts, their knowledge etc. As such they are not truth-functional in the
sense of the
because the belief that p is independent of the truth/falsity of p and, consequently, transcends
the bounds of what can meaningfully be said (T, 5.541). In the
, intentionality, subjectivity and all
associated contingency, must be excluded from logos because they are not truth-apt. In truth-functional statements
nothing can be said about the relation between a subject and his/her "mental, internal states" and propositional
attitudes, if it cannot be justified by a theory of representation. Wittgenstein's so-called thesis of extensionality, by
which he excludes intentional statements as non-truth-functional, makes use of the just mentioned distinction of
logical types. In his view, they are of the form "'p' says p" (T, 5.542), with "p" functioning as the name of the state
of affairs p. He thus falls back on the logical distinction between a name and its referent, and this is precisely the
distinction between map and territory, between class and class element. The mental act of thinking, believing,
meaning or knowing is subjective and takes place in time; only the logical content of thought is valid independently
of time, and in the logic of the
there is room only for this logical content of a proposition or a thought.
This is to justify the universality of a way of knowing which we call rational. To keep this conception of rationality
intact, intentional states such as believing or thinking or intending must be excluded from his system because they
express subjectivity, contingency, in brief: non-computability.
Wittgenstein here presents another superb
Propositions of the form "A believes p" may also be understood non-psychologically, namely as statements of a belief held by A. In this
understanding they are truth-functional and compatible with the logic of the
; A may after all not believe p but q, and then the
© Hans Rudi Fischer
formulation of the characteristic claim to hegemony of modern totalitarian, fundamentalist rationalism which must
exclude everything that is different and heterogeneous in order to comprehend itself. The very irrationality of
modern thought lies, however, in the desire to exclude irrationality - which cannot be excluded - from all discourse
which it terms rational. I should now like to turn to a further class of statements which cannot be subsumed under
the dichotomy logical vs. descriptive propositions, either, which is, however, unlike intentional statements, not
excluded. I am referring to the so-called "net statements". They break up the closed logical horizon of the
and point the way towards an understanding of the logic of ordinary language, which Wittgenstein will later call
The link to the late philosophy: "net statements" in the
Apart from the logical statements of the Tractatus which are "true" a priori, Wittgenstein distinguishes another
group of sentences which say nothing about the world but are
tautologies: the "
net statements
He refers to
such "net statements" in connection with the "laws" of the natural sciences and mentions, in particular, the "law of
causality" (the law of "sufficient reason"), the "law of induction", and others (T, 6.31ff). Of these statements he says
"all these are
a priori
insights about the forms in which the propositions of science can be cast."(T, 6.34).
Wittgenstein offers an instructive example to clarify the function of the net. He posits a white plane with irregularly
distributed black spots as a/the reality to be described. A net consisting of squares is then placed over it so that one
can state for any square whether it is white or black. The plane - and, by analogy, the assumed reality - could thus
be exhaustively described. Wittgenstein's example in fact anticipates the digital logic used, for instance, in halftone
printing or in the scanning and digital representation of data. The net metaphor makes clear that what can be
fished, i.e. what can be described, depends on the design and the structure of the net, the system of description, as
Wittgenstein also calls it. The net, as it is here introduced by Wittgenstein as a system of description, functions as a
method or a form of representation which he characterises as arbitrary. "The different nets correspond to different
systems for describing the world. Mechanics determines
form of description of the world." (T, 6.341; my
emphasis). On the connection between the structure of the plane (the "reality") and the structure of the net
Wittgenstein remarks: "Although the spots in our picture are geometrical figures, nevertheless geometry can
obviously say nothing at all about their actual form and position. The network, however, is
geometrical; all
its properties can be given
a priori
. Laws like the principle of sufficient reason, etc. are about the net and not
about what the net describes."(T, 6.35). The statements of the net are, therefore, not confronted with experience
and are, in this respect, related to the logical statements; like these, they are located on a higher level due to their
logical type because they can neither be refuted nor confirmed by experience. Still these net statements occupy a
special place. In the
, the propositions of logic are fundamental with respect to any form of representation
and any form of description, and they are, therefore, in no way arbitrary, they are necessary. On this non-arbitrary
foundation, according to Wittgenstein, arbitrary systems of world description may be erected, which he calls nets.
The statements of such a net are not tautologies although they are as independent of experience as the statements
proposition "A believes p" is false. In T, 5.541ff Wittgenstein discusses "certain propositional forms in psychology", i.e. statements about
mental states of A (cf. Fischer 1985 & 1989).
© Hans Rudi Fischer
of logic. They deal with the form of a specific representation, in contrast to the statements of logic, which "deal
with nothing" (T, 6.134). The statements of the net occupy a special position between logical and empirical
statements; they conglomerate logic and experience, and so they remain dependent on logic, on the one hand, but
leave enough room to move within logic, on the other, in order to construct descriptions of the world. Within this
room to move, the different nets are instructions (rules) concerning the formation of meaningful propositions
(hypotheses). The essential difference to the statements of logic is that they are "transparent"
a priori
(like the
propositions of logic), but that they still "say" something about the world: "We are also
told something
about the
world by the fact that it can be described more simply with
system of mechanics than with another." (T, 6.342;
my emphasis). Here already the non-justifiability (arbitrariness) of net statements becomes apparent, which we
shall encounter again in the statements of grammar, and also their purely pragmatic justification with respect to
other nets. Using the metaphor of the net in contrast to the metaphors used for logic (e.g. scaffolding, foundation),
Wittgenstein introduces the ideas of flexibility and object adjustment. Scientific systems of description in the
are flexible, changeable, arbitrary nets which, on the basis of an absolute, fundamental space of logic,
constitute local sub-spaces for the construction of (meaningful) hypotheses which may be empirically validated.
Wittgenstein abandons logical fundamentalism and the chaining of the thinkable and the rational to logic in the
early thirties. In his Cambridge
Lectures 1930-1935
he relativised his
view to the extent that grammar
as the local logic of a language game was just one of many possib le styles of thought. And it was one of those net
statements, the law of causality, which he used to make this relativisation clear: causality is declared to be a style
of thought for a physicist, comparable to the postulate of a creator in religion: "In a sense it seems to be an
explanation, yet in another it does not explain at all.[...]. God is one style; the nebula another. A style gives us
satisfaction; but one style is not more rational than another" (L1, 104). A descriptive net is here called a "style of
thought" and identified with what Wittgenstein also calls grammar. One grammar, one style of thought, is now no
more rational than another because Wittgenstein has abandoned logic as the absolute standard of evaluation for
the rationality of a grammar. This is demonstrated by the fact that Wittgenstein, in these lectures, eliminates the
difference between necessary logical propositions and arbitrary net statements, which was characteristic of the
. The arbitrariness which in the
applied only to the net statements, is now postulated for the
propositions and the laws of logic as well: "The laws of logic, e.g., excluded middle and contradiction ,are
arbitrary." (L2, 71). Logical space becomes grammatical space, and the absolute logic of the
relativised to the role of nets in the
. The logical propositions, too, are subsumed under the
paradigm and interpreted as "grammatical rules" devoid of any structural-ontological implications. The absolute
apriori of the logical laws of the
becomes the relational apriori of the grammatical rules of language
games. This theoretical change now permits the analysis of the logic of natural language in the form of grammar.
Rationality as an open system: from logical fundamentalism to consensual action
The idea of absolutely valid logical laws is abandoned in favour of local rules which are valid in a specific language
game. This is, in effect, the essence of the transition from the structural-static thinking of logically closed
fundamentalism to the dynamic, open thinking in language games. Even mathematics and geometry, in the
© Hans Rudi Fischer
treated like logic by Wittgenstein, are now understood as descriptive nets the relevance of which derives
from their application as systems of description, so that specific systems constitute the actual meaning of specific
sign combinations. Wittgenstein eliminates the problem of necessary truths - a real problem in logic - by redefining
them as the result of certain grammatical prejudices. Such prejudices become apparent when dealing with words
like "must" or "cannot". It is always human subjects that suspend a statement from falsification (and thus implicitly
also from verification) and invest it with impregnable certainty. And so it becomes a rigid
norm of representation
to which reality must conform: "To accept a proposition as unshakably certain - I want to say - means to use it as a
grammatical rule: this removes uncertainty from it." (RFM, 170). The discussion of apriorism as a norm of
representation time and aagain shows the necessary true propositions to be "propositions" resulting from the logic
applying only within a given game. In this context, Wittgenstein uses logic in the sense of logic of language, which
is synonymous with grammar (cf. Z, 405, 590; RPP I, 1050). His argument against the metaphysical
misunderstanding of such propositions culminates in the claim that the necessity of these propositions is produced
by the linguistic community itself and corresponds to a normative mode of expression, not to a (metaphysical)
reality. Wittgenstein also calls these internal connections within the conceptual net, in an implicit analogy to
Frege's "timeless truths", timeless propositions. But the decisive difference with respect both to Frege and the whole
tradition is that they have been made "timeless" because we have elevated them to a perspective, through which
reality is described and constituted. These internal connections are part of the logic of the particular game, which
delimits the space of potential meaningful linguistic activity. Such timeless propositions do not correspond to
eternal truths but lay down what we call "thinking, "rationality", "meaning" etc. The pragmatic value of the
distinction between propositions of different logical levels, as shown for the
, may now also be explicated
for Wittgenstein's late philosophy. The grammatical rules and the statements of the language games constitute the
logical framework within which meaningful statements can be formulated. These grammatical rules are not true or
false in themselves."True" and "false" are valid only, if at all, for statements
a specific language game.
Consequently, the statements
a language game must be located on the logically primary level, and the
grammatical rules on the meta-level. This is what Wittgenstein means when he says that every grammar is a theory
of logical types. Wittgenstein's focus on grammar, as the local logic of a given language game, makes possible a
change of the second order, an evolution, a development of linguistic logic itself. Logic as the unconditional
foundation is replaced by consensual action. Wittgenstein's guiding maxim now no longer is the beginning of the
gospel of St.John, "In the beginning was the word", the logos, but Goethe's "In the beginning was the deed":"The
agreement of humans that is a presupposition of logic is not an agreement in
, much less in opinions on
questions of logic." (RFM, 353). In his
Philosophical Investigations
Wittgenstein makes explicit what kind of
consensus/correspondence it is that is more fundamental than logic: "'So you are saying that human agreement
decides what is true and what is false?'- It is what human beings
that is true and false; and they agree in the
they use. That is not agreement in opinions but in form of life." (PI, 241) As language is inevitably tied to
action as its foundation and its meaning-conditioning context, the correspondence in language is not a
correspondence of opinions, i.e. not merely one of language but one of standards (of grammar), and these manifest
themselves in the form of life, i.e. in the praxis of living.
© Hans Rudi Fischer
Grammar - neither nature nor art, neither given nor manufactured
It is now necessary to say something about Wittgenstein's frequently misconstrued claim that grammar is arbitrary
or optional. This thesis of Wittgenstein's is primarily directed against the view that the a priori propositions which
he interprets as grammatical, are thought to be read off the nature of things, to mirror the "essence of the world".
This was his own position in the
. In contrast, his late philosophy emphasises the independence of
grammar from reality. And grammar is independent because no event can force us (except perhaps "scientific
revolutions" through paradigm changes, as Kuhn says) to call it false. Grammar (and language) in this sense
cannot, therefore, be categorised as "nature", as "given". At the same time, however, grammar is indeed
on reality, on experience, because we would not use it if reality were different - and what reality is like we can only
"see" through the "spectacles" of the available, historically developed, system of description. So, although
experience may not be the foundation of our judgment games, it nevertheless affects our grammatical net. And this
is why grammar is not to be categorised as art, either, i.e. as something manufactured, because it has not been
created by a subject with a specific intention. This point needs more detailed discussion because it is of particular
significance for the consideration of "deranged"
. In
Wittgenstein explains that 'arbitrary' must not
be misunderstood as 'optional'/'discretionary'. Using the example of the language game of colours, the grammar of
colours, he characterises his conception of the "arbitrariness" of grammar: "We have a colour system as we have a
number system. Do the systems reside in
nature or in the nature of things? How are we to put it? -
in the
nature of numbers or colours. Then is there something arbitrary about this system? Yes and no. It is akin both to
what is arbitrary and to what is nonarbitrary. [...]. Yes, but has nature nothing to say here? Indeed she has - but
she makes herself audible in another way." (Z, 357f; 364). The example makes clear that the structure of grammar
deduced from the structure of things, the structure of the world. At a closer look, the putative standard of
nature proves to be the
of grammar. Necessity in nature is correlated with a rule of grammar. In this respect
grammar shows arbitrariness, and Wittgenstein, therefore, speaks of it as a convention. To what extent nature
makes itself "heard" nevertheless, is not elucidated by Wittgenstein in the excerpts quoted, but they make clear that
"arbitrariness" definitely does
mean dependence on human choice. Nature does make itself "heard" in grammar
in the sense that we would have a different grammar if the correlated reality were in fact
. Here
Wittgenstein adds an evolutionary idea to his conception of language. Extra-linguistic reality functions as a
constraint on grammar, and grammar thus fits into its environment like an organism. If the environment were
different, the given grammar would not fit, i.e. it would not work, and another kind of grammar would have arisen.
Grammar is, therefore, dependent on the biological nature of humans and their historically and culturally developed
forms of life, but also dependent on the nature of the facts. Grammar is also not arbitrary in the sense that it can
be changed according to how I personally think fit. There is a hard grammatical "must": if I want to be understood,
follow the rules of grammar. If I follow rules which differ from those of the established grammar, then what
I am saying will not be understood, and the question will arise whether I am following rules at all: "The steps which
are not brought in question are logical inferences. But the reason why they are not brought in question is not that
they 'certainly correspond to the truth' -
or something of the sort, - no, it is just this that is called 'thinking', 'speaking', 'inferring', 'arguing'." (RFM, 156).
© Hans Rudi Fischer
Human rationality cannot be reduced to the use of logical laws (systems of inference), and it is, in most cases, not
even tied to "logical laws". We know from a large number of studies in the psychology of cognition that the doctrine
of psychologism in logic, which assumed that the laws of logic were empirical laws of thought, is empirically false.
Human thinking does not follow the formal rules of logic. I should like to summarise Wittgenstein's later ideas
relating to this problem in the following way: Language exists only where rules are at work, and the same is true,
by analogy, of what we call thinking. Wittgenstein's analyses demonstrate that local rule systems are a
conditio sine
qua non
of rationality. What we describe as reasonable or rational is shown to be a function of rules or rule-like
organised processes, and
vice versa. Rationality is, therefore, not the foundation of rule systems, we follow
rules blindly (cf. PI, 219) as soon as we have learnt how to talk and think. Rationality is possible only on the basis
of rule-following. So we can now disengage ourselves from a conception of rationality that is dogmatically tied to
logic and discover rationality in the irrational.
From logical "laws of thought" to "de-ranged" logic
In his
Vorlesungen über die Grundlagen der Mathematik
Wittgenstein frequently ponders the question in what sense
logical laws might be "laws of thought". In this connection, talking about Frege's criticism of psychologism, he
makes an interesting remark which I should like to quote in full: "Frege in his perface to the
Grundgesetze der
talks about the fact that logical propositions are not psychological propositions That is, we cannot find
out the truth of the propositions of logic by means of a psychological investigation - they do not depend on what we
think. He asks: What should we say if we found people who made judgments contrary to our logical propositions?
What should we say if we found people who did not recognize our logical laws
a priori
, but arrived at them by a
lengthy process of induction? Or if we even found people who did not recognize our laws of logic at all and who
made logical propositions opposite to ours ? He says, "I should say 'Here we have a new kind of madness' - whereas
the psychological logician could only say 'Here's a new kind of logic.'" (LFM, 201f.) Here Frege's and
Wittgenstein's different positions are revealed in great clarity. Frege's argument remains committed to the
occidental tradition of identity logic. Whatever does not obey the laws of logic must be considered "mad" or
deficient and is relegated to pathology. It is not even thinkable that one may think in other ways. This is the view
that has come to dominate schizophrenia research: schizophrenics are defined as deficient in "logical thinking", in
cognitive potential. In contrast, Wittgenstein's anti-fundamentalist position admits of other kinds of thinking and
other logics, so that it becomes possible to bring back madness, "de-ranged thought", from the domain of the
incomprehensible and illogical, into the framework of what is regular in principle. I should now like to conclude my
article with an examination of this problem.
Insanity as a form of life
Having read a number of Freud's works, Wittgenstein developed a sort of love-hate relationship with
psychoanalytical theory. What he apparently recognised as a meaningful approach in the psychoanalytical
conception of insanity, he entered 1938 in one of his notebooks as a characterisation of the Freudian idea: "In
© Hans Rudi Fischer
madness the lock is not destroyed, only
; the old key can no longer unlock it, but it could be opened by a
differently constructed
key " (CV, 33e; my emphasis). The key to insanity may be reconstructed both from
Wittgenstein's own remarks and his idea of language. To put it crudely, the assumption is that there is a method
behind insanity, that it forms its own, different patterns of order. And there is, furthermore, the implicit
presupposition that this system is
, which is the prerequisite of a "key" to the understanding of these
phenomena. In order to develop this argument in relation to Wittgenstein's framework I should like to set the scene
with the following remarks: "'It is high time for us to compare these phenomena with something
one may
say - I am thinking, e.g., of mental illnesses. Madness need not be regarded as an illness. Why shouldn't it be seen
as a sudden - more or
sudden - change of character?" (CV,54e f.). Here a paradigm change with regard to the
consideration of mental illnesses is explicitly demanded: they are to be conceived of as the
, and not
as the complete disintegration, of what is conventionally understood as the "character" of a person. In
Wittgenstein poses the question what a society of imbeciles might look like, and this question concerns the
intersubjective framework, the form of life, within which the language games of the "imbeciles" might function. The
common view of madness is contrasted with another one: "One imagines the feeble-minded under the aspect of the
degenerate, the essentially incomplete, as it were in tatters. And so under that of disorder instead of more primitive
order (which would be a far more fruitful way of looking at them). We just don't see a
of such people." (Z,
372; RPP I, 646). Wittgenstein's proposal to understand insanity as a transformation of character has to do with
the subjective aspect of the problem, his remarks in
add the aspect of intersubjectivity. And what he says
about "imbeciles" may be transferred to "mental illnesses". I shall, therefore, assume that the cognitive system
underlying insanity is not a more primitive, but a different one. Remember that the traditional name of the
illnesses, for which Bleuler finally coined the term "schizophrenia", used to be
dementia praecox
, a concept still
conforming to the image of madness as a kind of degeneration and premature insanity, which Wittgenstein was to
call in question. For Wittgenstein, the insanity of a subject implies a different cognitive system, and not at all a
complete disintegration of what is understood as the character or the personal identity of a human being. But this is
also reflected in intersubjective, social life, where emotional disorders and deviant behaviour manifest themselves
as the
of an illness. The productive view of mental illness must, therefore, take into account its
contextual dimensions.
We should, therefore, try to conceive of a society in which the language games of the
insane have a function, i.e. meaning. And so we have returned to the centre of Wittgenstein's discussion of the
concepts of
in his late philosophy. The rules underlying thought, speech, and action must be
internalised in the process of socialisation. The decisive problem for the philosophy of language is rule-following.
As rules must be applied, and as there is no rule governing their application, there seems to be a metaphysical gap
between a rule and its application, i.e. that which is believed to be its correct application. Now Wittgenstein shows
that there is an internal, i.e. grammatical, connection between a rule and its use - the appropriate action -, and that
this connection is not fixed platonistically once and for all, but is constituted as a social, intersubjectively bound
praxis, as a "custom", a social "institution". A rule is understood if a person is able to follow it; the "correct"
application of the rule is the criterion of its understanding. Rule-following is, therefore, not a matter of individual
"Put a man in the wrong atmosphere and nothing will function as it should. He will seem unhealthy in every part. Put him back into his
proper element and everything will blossom and look healthy." (CV, 42e).
© Hans Rudi Fischer
choice but tied to social praxis. The consensus achieved through the common application of rules is, therefore, not
merely a consensus of opinions, a purely linguistic consensus, but a much more fundamental correspondence of
forms of life (PI, 241). The language game as the common ground of rule-governed communicative activity is,
therefore, anchored in an encompassing system of reference, i.e. the form of life: "We can now see why we should
call those who have a different logic contradicting ours made. The madness would be like this: a) The people would
do something which we'd call talking or writing. b) There would be a close analogy between our talking and theirs,
etc. c) Then we would suddenly see an entire discrepancy between what we do and what they do." (LFM, 203)
Wittgenstein thus proposes a supplementary framework for the "insane" within which their language games would
find a "home"/"heimat". In other words, a hermeneutic (verstehen) approach to the language games of
schizophrenics (with whom I am mainly concerned here) must categorise and analyse them in connection with a
potentially different,
schizophrenic form of life
. We must remain aware of this connection when we approach the
problem of mental illness.
Insanity as transformed grammar: on the difference between error and madness
In his
Anthropologie in pragmatischer Hinsicht
which I mentioned at the beginning, Kant had already assumed that
insanity might possess some underlying system. He developed an extensive nosography of the diverse forms of
insanity. "..." (Kant 1917, 219) He distinguishes between a tumultuous, a methodical, and a systematic kind of
insanity (ibid. 214). Of particular interest to us here is the last-named form of madness because Kant here
formulates the idea that there might be a "system" in madness. I should like to quote the relevant passage in full
because of its substance and its clarity of style: "..." (ibid. 216). Kant bases his analysis on the literal meaning of
de-rangement/dis-order/ dis-placement and thus nicely foregrounds the idea of
another perspective
. According to
Kant's doctrine of different cognitive abilities, "folly" shows a systematic transformation of the highest cognitive
faculty, reason, which, therefore,
according to
different rules
. If we abstract from Kant's differentiation of
diverse cognitive abilities and their involvement in his transcendental programme, we can recognise in his
conception of
systematic de-rangement
the theses under which Gregory Bateson, the founder of a conception of
schizophrenia based on communication theory, describes insanity both as a "change of character" and as a change
of the "system of interpreting" reality, which he, like Wittgenstein, calls a grammar. In conclusion, I should like to
show that a systematically different perspective of categorising "reality" can, logically speaking, never be in "error"
because we are dealing with another grammar and another logic. The problem of "erring" is discussed by
Wittgenstein in connection with mathematical rule-following. When someone does not follow an arithmetical rule,
the question arises whether we are confronted by an error or by a disturbance of mind. Wittgenstein does not draw
a sharp line between the two: "If I were sometime to see quite new surroundings from my window instead of the
long familiar ones, if things, humans and animals were to behave as they never did before, then I should say
something like 'I have gone mad'; but that would merely be an expression of giving up the attempt to know my way
about. And the same thing might befall me in mathematics. It might e.g.
as if I kept on making mistakes in
calculating, so that no answer seemed reliable to me. But the important thing about this for me is that there isn't
any sharp line between such a condition and the normal one." (Z, 393). The relevant result of Wittgenstein's
© Hans Rudi Fischer
discussion of "erring" in the present context is for me essentially the following: If such an error of calculation is
committed frequently or all the time, then speaking of an "error" becomes questionable, because in order to be able
to err "a man must already judge in conformity with mankind" (OC, 156), i.e. there must be a certain measure of
in relation to which something may be categorised as an "error". If there is no such fundamental
consensus, an error can no longer be understood as such, and speaking of an "error" becomes meaningless. There is
no longer conformity of judgment, no more consensus, and so there can be no more criticism that might be
consensually shared. This does not only apply to mathematical rule-following but to all the other domains in which
we are concerned with rule-following, i.e. speech, thought, and action. Such consensual divergence between
individuals seems to characterise most forms of schizophrenia, and so the characterisation of patients as "crazy"
creates a misleading image because a patient does
err in the sense that he/she is potentially able to understand
what he/she is doing wrong. This is made very clear by Wittgenstein's critical discussion of Moore's
On Certainty
Here Wittgenstein convincingly demonstrates the difference between truth and certainty; intentionality, still
excluded by the
, now is a logical prerequisite of the grammar of game-playing: "If my friend were to
imagine one day that he had been living for a long time past in such and such a place, etc. etc., I should not call
this a
, but rather a mental disturbance, perhaps a transient one. Not every false belief of this sort is a
mistake. But what is the difference between my treating it as a mistake and my treating it as mental disturbance?
Can we say: a
doesn't only have a cause, it also has a ground? I.e., roughly: when someone makes a
mistake, this can be fitted into what he knows aright." (OC, 71-74). Erring persons are prepared in principle to be
persuaded that their assumptions, their false beliefs, that p, were
, and they can offer reasons for why they had
entertained the false beliefs that p. This is to say that an error may be "integrated into the correct system of
knowledge of those who erred" because they accept, even though they err, the foundation of the game which has
created the problem. The statements which Moore considered genuine statements of knowledge (e.g. "I know that I
have a body") are, for Wittgenstein, statements belonging to our system of reference, grammatical statements, and
it is pointless to want to assert and theoretically justify them as knowledge because, as redundant tautological
paradigms, they lie at the bottom of the game. Therefore, Wittgenstein also claimed that, if Moore asserted the
contradictories of his statements, we could no longer speak of an error but would have to speak of mental disorder
(OC, 155). In that case Moore would have abandoned the common basis of our system of reference, i.e. our
grammar, and could not be convinced of the opposite: "If someone supposed that
our calculations were
uncertain and that we could rely on none of them (justifying himself by saying that mistakes are always possible)
perhaps we would say he was crazy. But can we say he is in error? Does
not just react differently? We rely on
doesn't; we are sure,
isn't." (OC, 217; my emphasis). Wittgenstein suggests here that we would,
in such a case, face a different form of life with its own specific kind of rationality, another system of beliefs
generating other behaviours, and that it would then be pointless to speak of error or to try to convice people that
they erred. There can, therefore, be no insight into error, into erring belief. In such cases the "truths" of our system
of reference would be invalid and would not supply a common foundation, where all doubting would stop. When
Wittgenstein writes, in connection with erring or "being disturbed/ confused": "Here
once more
there is needed a
step like the one taken in relativity theory" (OC, 305), he wants to express the idea that the "truth" of grammatical
rules is valid only relative to our world-view, our grammar, and that, consequently, any error or mistake concerning
© Hans Rudi Fischer
those rules is out of the question. And this is precisely what our experience of the interaction with insane people
reflects: they do not err. Their thoughts and actions follow a kind of rationality which becomes comprehensible in
the communicative context. And right there we can find a key to the understanding of the logic of the language
games of the insane, which we call irrational with reference to our established grammar.
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Full-text available
Wittgenstein`s legacy does not consist in conceiving a systematic philosophy, but in a certain kind, a method of thinking. This thinking focuses on philosophical problems as illnesses of thinking and tries to cure these by means of philosophy/therapy. This approach with all its implications is certainly one of the reasons why Wittgenstein is practically ignored by a large number of academic philosophers. The therapeutic impetus of Wittgenstein`s philosophy can be understood against the background of his own psychological problems.
Schizophrenia—its nature, etiology, and the kind of therapy to use for it—remains one of the most puzzling of the mental illnesses. The theory of schizophrenia presented here is based on communications analysis, and specifically on the Theory of Logical Types. From this theory and from observations of schizophrenic patients is derived a description, and the necessary conditions for, a situation called the “double bind”—a situation in which no matter what a person does, he “can't win.” It is hypothesized that a person caught in the double bind may develop schizophrenic symptoms. How and why the double bind may arise in a family situation is discussed, together with illustrations from clinical and experimental data.
A sacred unity. Further Steps to an Ecology of Mind
  • Gregory Bateson
Bateson, Gregory (1972): Steps to an Ecology of Mind. New York: Ballantine Books. Batesond, Greogry (1979): Mind and Nature. New York: E.P. Dutton Bateson, Gregory (1991): A sacred unity. Further Steps to an Ecology of Mind. Ed. By Rodney E. Donaldson. New York 1991.
Grammar" and "Language-Game" as Concepts for the Analysis of Schizophrenic Language
  • Hans Fischer
  • Rudi
Fischer, Hans Rudi (1987): "Grammar" and "Language-Game" as Concepts for the Analysis of Schizophrenic Language. In: Neurotic and Psychotic Language-Behavior. Ed. by R. Wodak and Pete von de Craen. Clevedon/Philadelphia, GB/USA. S. 165-199.
Wittgenstein's Lectures : Cambridge
L 1 (1980):Wittgenstein's Lectures : Cambridge, 1930-32. Oxford (Basil Backwell).
Remarks on the Philosophy of Psychology . Volume I/II
RPP (1980): Remarks on the Philosophy of Psychology. Volume I/II. Oxford (Basil Blackwell).