Characters

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 419

If by "characters" someone infers the meaning "fictional characters in a traditional novel," then there are no fictional characters, as there would be in a traditional novel, in Ludwig Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations. However, the question, "Who are the characters of Philosophical Investigations by Ludwig Wittgenstein?" is still a relevant one. If by "characters" we infer the meaning of something philosophical, then we can, quite comfortably, set our mind to the philosophical investigation of the meaning of "characters" in Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations.

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Ludwig Wittgenstein's (1889–1951) Philosophical Investigations can be thought of as a philosophical work consisting of Wittgenstein's new thoughts, which follow from his old thoughts in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. If we consider what the meaning of "character" is in Wittgenstein's work, then we have, quite simply, come to much of what Wittgenstein's main objective, or purpose, is in the work itself.

There are perhaps two characters by which we can consider the meaning of Wittgenstein's task in his book: Wittgenstein himself, and the ancient philosopher St. Augustine of Hippo. By means of these two characters, we are introduced to a concept of meaning in the preface of his Philosophical Investigations. Wittgenstein provides a concept of meaning by providing a picture, or representation, of the essence of human language; he does this by referencing the Confessions, an early philosophical work written by St. Augustine. In the preface, Wittgenstein writes that St. Augustine "gives a particular picture of the essence of human language" based on the idea that “words in language name objects,” and that “sentences are combinations of such names” (SEP, 3.2). Accordingly, a representation, or picture, of the essence of human language is a representation or picture of some word. But what is perhaps most striking is how Wittgenstein develops, and eventually proposes, the notion that "the meaning of a word is its use in the language” (SEP, 3.3). In other words, and as Wittgenstein would suggest, meaning is what we give to a word X or Y—not what is essential to some word X or Y.

Returning to our original question, we ask: who, or what, are the "characters" of Philosophical Investigations by Ludwig Wittgenstein? As Wittgenstein seems to suggest to us, characters are the meaning of what you think characters are! So if someone asks you to explain the character of King Duncan in Shakespeare's Macbeth, just tell them your meaning of King Duncan! Then, if challenged about your meaning, just say something like, "Oh, well I'm using the Wittgensteinian notion of meaning." Indeed, all's well that ends well!

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