Published online by Cambridge University Press: 12 September 2012
Wittgenstein's statement ‘The limits of my language mean the limits of my world’ is made in his early Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and it was one that he was to modify in the notebooks that became the posthumous Philosophical Investigations. Recognising that the position he had reached in Tractatus trapped him within a prison-house of language he negotiated a way beyond this impasse by suggesting that meaning within the closed circuit of signification proceeds by grammar: ‘For a large class of cases’, he continues, ‘though not for all—in which we employ the word “meaning” it can be defined thus: the meaning of a word is its use in the language’. Meaning, he concludes (thus curiously echoing Hume), is an evolving of contexts, so that communication proceeds not by any absolute relationship between signifier and signified, word and object, but by the contextual relations within a series of utterances. Such a solution is essentially pragmatic, suggesting that each manoeuvre in human interchange must be renegotiated within its own parameters: ‘What we do’, he states, ‘is to bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use’ so that the result of his new philosophy is the ‘uncovering of one or another piece of plain nonsense and of bumps that the understanding has got by running its head up against the limits of language’.
For some commentators Wittgenstein's conclusions thus both pre-empt and offer a solution to the apparent crisis articulated by post-structuralist criticism, which figured the recognition of language as a self-reflexive system as a moment of trauma.
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