From Moore’s Lecture Notes to Wittgenstein’s Blue Book

From Moore’s Lecture Notes to Wittgenstein’s Blue Book

Hans Sluga



How many Wittgensteins are there? One, two, three, or even more? The question has no definite answer. There is surely more than one way to look at Wittgenstein’s work and to divide it up in this or that way – for instance, by distinguishing different themes and preoccupations, or different styles of writing, or different phases of thinking according to this or that time-line.

Looking beyond such divisions, I want to conceive of Wittgenstein here as a dynamic thinker – as someone constantly revisiting and revising his previous thoughts and formulations. “He has the wonderful gift of always seeing things as if for the first time,” Ludwig Waismann wrote of him in 1934. “He always follows the inspiration of the moment and tears down what he has previously sketched out.” (Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle, p. 26) That was said, admittedly, at a particularly volatile moment in Wittgenstein’s thinking, but the remark speaks also to a pervasive feature of his thought. It is this dynamism that makes Wittgenstein so attractive to us quite apart from the particular contents of his thought. We might call him, in Isaiah Berlin’s words, a fox rather than a hedgehog and as such a rarity in the philosophical zoo where hedgehoggery counts today as the ultimate virtue. But if we see Wittgenstein as being always on the road, we must also recognize that there are moments when he stops by the wayside. “Where others pass by, I stand still,” was after all one of his mottoes. (Culture and Value, p. 66) We may think of the Tractatus as one such moment. The book emerged out of the maelstrom of his war time notebooks and presented itself in the crystalline form of its numbered propositions as a work that was bringing philosophy to an end – or almost to an end, as it turned out.

The Tractatus was, in fact, a not completely successful hybrid. In the order of its exposition it sought to depict a kind of pilgrim’s progress from Wittgenstein’s initial commitment to a Russell-style logical atomism to his final overcoming of all speculative philosophizing. It gave voice thus to the conception of philosophy as an activity rather than a body of doctrine (TLP. 4.112) and one which – against the claims of the Tractatus – might be continued or resumed at a later point. On the other hand, the Tractatus, garbed in its numbering-system borrowed from Principia Mathematica, also sought to produce the mythological effect of a single, timeless, logical point of view. We can see from the lectures that Moore attended what effort it took Wittgenstein to change the mythology of the Tractatus back into a state of flux so that the river-bed of his thought might once again shift. But I don’t, in fact, assume that his thinking had been standing still in the ten years after the completion of the Tractatus. We know that in those years he had come to look at language in a new way as a result of his experience as a primary school teacher; we also know that he had learned something about psychology – from listening to Karl Buehler in his teachers’ training course and from studying Freud with the encouragement of his sister; we know equally that he had received significantly new philosophical impulses from reading (or: reading in) Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West. Yet this current of new thought of the 1920’s was not quite strong enough to wash the edifice of the Tractatus away. Moore’s lecture notes reveal how much of it was still holding up in 1930 and how it took Wittgenstein three years of hard work to bring it finally down.

Moore’s notes also establish that by May 1933 a new way of thinking had come to appear in the rubble of the old. The Blue Book, which Wittgenstein dictated to his students in the Fall of that year and the Spring of 1934, provides evidence of this new thinking. We refer to the Blue Book commonly as one of the preliminary studies for the Philosophical Investigations but this is misleading. The characterization may fit the subsequently composed Brown Book but misses out on the true significance of the preceding work. The Blue Book lays out a position that is neither that of the Tractatus nor that of the Philosophical Investigations. It retains from the Tractatus the assumption that language is appropriately seen as a calculus, but it is no longer committed to the assumption that there is only one such calculus and that all language has therefore the same deep logical structure. Like the Philosophical Investigations it conceives of the difference between the material and the psychological in terms of two distinct ways of speaking, but it does not yet  recognize that the language of inner states rests on and presupposes that of outer criteria. I conceive for these reasons of the Blue Book as a text intermediate between the Tractatus and the Investigations and as comparable to them in significance and I believe that Wittgenstein himself took it to be such. We know that Wittgenstein dictated it to his students in lectures, that he subsequently corrected the written version, that he had it reproduced and distributed, and that for a long time, before the publication of the Philosophical Investigations, the work served as the one and only piece of evidence of Wittgenstein’s post-Tractarian turn. Where the Tractatus was an actual publication, and the Investigations an intended one, we can speak of the Blue Book thus as a quasi-publication. If we are to distinguish different phases in Wittgenstein’s thinking and if we are entitled to speak of the thought of a “middle Wittgenstein,” it is in the Blue Book that we find its most mature and most compelling expression.

Taking the work seriously in this way, we may want to understand better how it came to be composed and here Moore’s essay on Wittgenstein’s lectures of 1930 to 1933 and the notes he took in those lectures are invaluable – for the Blue Book is separated from those lectures by less than half a year and marks, in fact, Wittgenstein’s next step beyond them.



One of Wittgenstein’s fundamental concerns in this period, so I believe, was the question  what literary form to give to the dynamic character of his thinking. How do you represent a thinking that is always on the way? The format of the Tractatus, he must have realized, would no longer do. This experiment at combining the discursive and the systematic aspects of thinking had failed. Wittgenstein discovered at this point the lecture as a new medium. Before the war, his linguistic medium had been the private notebook with its highways and by-ways, also notes written for specific readers (Russell and Moore), and this material he had subsequently cast into the numerical ordering of the Tractatus. Now he could develop his thought by speaking in public in front of and with the help of an audience. Compared to his later lectures, those of the early 1930’s were as yet not very interactive. We hear almost always only Wittgenstein’s own voice in them. But the lectures would soon turn into dialogues with his audience and from them would eventually emerge the dialogical form of the Philosophical Investigations. Wittgenstein doesn’t do full justice to the discursive and dynamic aspects of his when his describes his remarks in the book as sketches made during “long and involved journeyings.” The characterization leaves out how much these journeys were undertaken in the company of others.

But first came the Blue Book: a text dictated in lectures to students whose essential role was, like Moore’s had been in the lectures of 1930-1933, to record what was being said. Wittgenstein had begun the lectures that generated the Blue Book speaking freely in the way he had done in the earlier lecture courses but had decided after a short time that this procedure was unsatisfactory, that he wanted to give his students “something to carry home with them, in their hands if not in their brains,” as he wrote to Russell. He also told Russell that the text was meant  “only for the people, who heard the lectures” and that without knowledge of what had gone on in them they might be “very difficult to understand … as so many points are just hinted at.” (BB, p. vii) This suggests that the lectures were more extensive than what is recorded in the Blue Book, but we have no documentation, as far as I know, of what else went on in them. Wittgenstein’s cautionary remarks need, in any case, to be taken with caution. We find similarly deprecatory comments in the preface of the Tractatus and the Philosophical Investigation as well as in the drafted foreword to the Philosophical Remarks. I take all of them to be indications of Wittgenstein’s sense of the difficulty of communicating the course of a live philosophical thinking in a written (and published) text.

My suggestion is that we should read the Blue Book, just like the Tractatus and the Investigations, not as a free-standing artefact but in conjunction with the preceding notes and lectures and as their continuation. And this means also, that we should read it not as an authoritative expression of a single and static point of view which the author occupies from the beginning to the end of the text, but as a discursive event in which thoughts emerge and change in the course of the exposition. We need to learn to read the Blue Book, in other words, as we have now finally come to read the Tractatus – as a manifestation of a course of thinking that is still on the way, rather than an expression of a set of timeless truths.



I will try to explicate this point here with respect to one part of the Blue Book. The work divides, as careful readers will know, quite visibly into two sections. The first circulates around a variety of topics such as, in particular, “the usages we make of such words as ‘thinking’, ‘meaning’, ‘wishing’, etc.”, as Wittgenstein himself summarizes (BB, p. 43); the second devotes itself, by contrast, to a single topic: that of “personal experience” (BB, p. 44) or, more specifically, that of the difference between “propositions of which we may say that they describe facts in the material world,” and “propositions describing personal experiences.” (BB, pp. 46-47) Wittgenstein adds at this mid-point in his book that he has so far postponed discussion of this matter “because the topic raises a host of philosophical difficulties” that appear to put into question “all we have said about signs and about the various objects we mentioned in our examples” in the first part of the text. (BB, p. 44) He does not mean by this that the topic of personal experience only appears to put such matters into question but that it really does so and  that engaging with this topic forces a genuine re-assessment of the assumptions in the first part of the Blue Book. There is no reason to assume that Wittgenstein had anticipating this reversal from the beginning; it is, rather, that the second part of the Blue Book moves us dynamically in a new and unexpected direction. In the first part of the Blue Book Wittgenstein had maintained that it was misleading to talk of thinking as a mental activity. “We may say that thinking is essentially an operating with signs.” (BB, p. 6) This, almost behaviorist sounding, claim, Wittgenstein realized at the beginning of the second part of the Blue Book, needed revision in the light of reflection on personal experiences such as the feeling of a tooth-ache.

We should recall here that the Tractatus had passed over the topic of personal experience rather quickly. The only meaningful propositions are for it those of natural science and at the time Wittgenstein’s model of natural science had been physics and more specifically classical mechanics in the form given to it by Hertz.  Of psychology and psychological matters he had written disparagingly, that “psychology has nothing to do with philosophy. (TLP, 4.1121) Propositions like “A believes that p” might look as if they concerned a relation between a subject A and a proposition p, but Wittgenstein pronounced that analysis incoherent. (TLP, 5.541) And this, he had added without much ado, “shows that there is no such thing as the soul – the subject etc. – as it is conceived in today’s superficial psychology. (TLP, 5.5421)

He jumped to this unexpected proposition with the help of a brilliantly simple but devastating insight – devastating that is for the view held by (among others) Descartes, Leibniz, and the Russell of the multiple relations theory of judgment that there is a soul or subject and that this soul is simple since “a composite soul would no longer be a soul” (ibid.) but nevertheless capable of a multiplicity of psychological states. For Wittgenstein it was obvious that nothing could satisfy those conditions.  “There is no such thing as the subject that thinks or entertains ideas,” as he put it in the Tractatus. (5.631)

But if psychology was anathema to him in 1919, it was certainly no longer so in the 1930’s. That is evident from his 1933 lectures and still more so from the Blue Book. In both the lectures and the Blue Book he returned to the question of the soul, subject, or self but this time in a less dismissive and less apodictic fashion. He had by no means abandoned all his earlier convictions on this topic. He still sought to maintain that there is no such thing as the soul or subject. In his lecture on February 27, 1933 he asserted firmly that “Just as there is no ‘eye’ in seeing, so there is no ‘Ego’ in thinking or in having tooth-ache.” (p. 213) And in the Blue Book he added that the word “I” is not a name of an object. But through reading Freud he had in the meantime become familiar with a conception of the Ego that was not committed to the Cartesian, Leibnizian, and Russellian belief in the simplicity and unity of the soul. This necessitated a rethinking. In order to undermine the metaphysical belief in a soul or subject it was no longer sufficient to argue against the idea of a simple, thinking subject; in the face of the Freudian and modern view of the ego as a something composite Wittgenstein needed to advance a new set of considerations and these he laid out at first tentatively in his 1933 lectures and then with more conviction in the Blue Book.        



It is not easy to follow Wittgenstein’s course of thinking on this topic in the five lectures he devoted to it from February 17, 1933 through March 3. And we get little help from Moore’s account of those lectures in his essay on “Wittgenstein’s Lectures in 1930-33.” The problem is not primarily that Moore had been “very much puzzled” by Wittgenstein’s words on the topic of personal experience “and also as to the connection between different things which he said” and that he considered Wittgenstein’s discussion “rather incoherent” and thus complained that his own presentation “must be incoherent also, because I cannot see the connection between different points which he seemed anxious to make.” (Moore, Philosophical Papers, p. 306) The deeper reason why Moore’s account is unhelpful is that throughout his essay he organized his material thematically, combining what Wittgenstein had said on any topic at various moments under a single heading. He applied the same arrangement to Wittgenstein’s remarks on tooth-ache, feelings, solipsism, the I and so on, combining, for instance, everything he said about behaviorism in a paragraph, then everything he said about the word “I,” then everything on Solipsism and Idealism, and so on. No wonder then that Moore’s essay does not allow us to understand the connections Wittgenstein saw between the various topics he treated in the 1930 to 1933 lectures and specifically the connections in his remarks on the topic of personal experience.  Moore’s treatment has torn the flow of Wittgenstein’s thinking apart. He has presented to us a number of propositions but has removed the dynamics of Wittgenstein’s thinking. It is for this reason fortunate that we now have available Moore’s original lecture notes for they finally allow us to reconstruct that dynamics.

In his 1933 lectures Wittgenstein introduces the topic of pain – or more generally of “personal experience,” as Wittgenstein will call it in the Blue Book – in the context of a radical revision of his Tractarian views on language. He maintains now, in straightforward opposition to the Tractatus, that “there is no complete grammar.” (p. 200) He goes on to say that one might assume that “[a] complete logical analysis gives us [the] complete grammar of a word.” But there is also no such thing as a complete logical analysis. A logical analysis of a proposition can only be viewed as “an antidote to a poison,” as, for instance, “some kind of philosophical error.” Such an analysis is to be understood, in other words, as a pragmatically useful, local procedure. Wittgenstein adds to this that he wants to destroy “the view that logical analysis helps us to understand our propositions better.” A person unfamiliar with the logical analysis of a word “understands the word as well as we” do who are in possession of such an analysis.

It is at this point and in this context that Wittgenstein turns to looking at the proposition “He feels tooth-ache.” The question of the logical analysis of this proposition is motivated precisely by one of those philosophical errors. It arises as a “question connected with Behaviorism” (Ibid.) In his next lecture three days later, on February 20, Wittgenstein adds that the topic of tooth-ache is so “extraordinarily difficult” because it raises issues that divide “realists, Idealists, & Solipsists.” The topic of personal experience is thus introduced into the  lectures primarily as an illustration of a more general concern over grammar and logical analysis. As such it is only one such illustration. Wittgenstein makes no attempt to completely sort out the problems arising in it. He moves, instead, after five lectures on the topic that is raised by the proposition “[The] only reality is my present experience.” (p. 220) Here once again the issue of solipsism as a characteristic philosophical error arises, but Wittgenstein focuses more thoroughly on Russell’s puzzle concerning the possibility that the world has come into existence only five minutes ago. The topic of personal experience is thus only subsidiary to his concern with dismantling the edifice of the Tractatus in the pre-Blue Book lectures. In the Blue Book itself, by contrast, the treatment of the topic is greatly expanded and has acquired an intrinsic interest.



From the beginning of his initial lectures on personal experience, on February 17, onwards Wittgenstein is convinced of a number of things. He understands from the start that there is a significant difference between saying “I have tooth-ache” and “He has tooth-ache.” But what does that difference come to? He asks: “When we say: He feels tooth-ache; is it correct to say this tooth-ache is only his behavior? And when I talk about my tooth-ache, am I talking about something else?” (p. 200) He is sure that “tooth-ache doesn’t only mean a particular kind of behavior.” When I pity a man for having a tooth-ache, I surely don’t pity him for putting his hand on his cheek. (p. 201) But what is the difference between the first-person and the third-person case? He rejects altogether the idea that the having of a pain is a form of possession or ownership and that the difference is only whether I or someone else has it. To that end he considers a series of counterfactual situations in which I feel pain in someone else’s body – cases he brings up again in the Blue Book but, it seems to me, for a slightly different purpose. In the lectures the intent is obviously to show that a different body can “have” the pain in the sense of possessing it but the pain still being mine. Wittgenstein concludes “That what verifies /is a criterion for/ ‘I have tooth-ache’ is quite different from what verifies /[is a] criterion for/ ‘He has tooth-ache.’” (p. 201)

This formulation indicates that he treats both “I have tooth-ache” and “He has tooth-ache” as factual statements with determinate but different truth-conditions but leaves undetermined how these are to be construed. Missing at this point is the Blue Book idea that “I have tooth-ache” is not a factual statement at all but an expressive utterance. This is certainly not his view on February 17 when he concludes his lecture with the suggestion that we might avoid philosophical confusion “by inventing a language in which we didn’t use ‘I have tooth-ache & ‘he has’” but said, instead, “There is tooth-ache here” & “He is behaving as …” The reformulation is meant to avoid the idea that the tooth-ache is “owned” by a subject; it is far from clear how it is intended also to avoid the pitfall of behaviorism.

Wittgenstein’s next lecture, three days later, on February 20, takes up where the previous had ended. To say that “I have tooth-ache” comes to saying that “There is tooth-ache here.” The apparent reference to an I that has the tooth-ache in the first formulation proves misleading. In order to re-enforce this conclusion, Wittgenstein considers another example, that of saying “I see a red patch.” And he asks whether a person comes into this sensation at all. By person he seems to mean here a perceiving body for he goes on to say that “There is no organ of vision essential: no physical eye is necessary” for describing the visual field. (p. 203) And thus: “I should say: Visual field is nothing that belongs to any person” and that “I can separate visual field from an organ of sight.” (Ibid.) And this, he seems to think bears also on the question of the I, for he goes on to ask: “Should I in this case be inclined to use ‘I’ “my” at all?” (p. 204) It follows from all this, he argues, that the solipsist’s statement “Only my experience is real” must be absurd since experience is not essentially mine or anybody else’s; at the same time it shows that there is something to the solipsist’s claim in that “no person necessarily enters into a sensory experience at all.” (p. 205) Paradoxically, the solipsist’s position seems both confirmed and undermined by the same data.

In the following lecture on February 24 Wittgenstein emphasizes once more that “the important point” is contained in the question “Is there such a thing as subject & object in the description of primary experience?” (p. 206) There are two forms of solipsism he wants to distinguish. In the first, inconsiderate form the solipsist says that the “only real thing is my experience; in the second, considerate forms he says “nothing is real for anybody, but what he experiences.” Both forms are absurd “but there is something which tempts towards both.” The first is an egoistic – or perhaps better: an ego-based – form of solipsism. We might take  Russell’s multiple relations theory to have been such a kind of solipsism since it conceives of the whole world with all the others and their psychological states as a logical construct out of the sense-data of the I. The second form of solipsism, the second form may have been illustrated for Wittgenstein by Schopenhauer for whom both the self and the others and their difference and separation is merely phenomenal. For the Schopenhauerian there is only the undifferentiated metaphysical which is always at odds with itself and thus suffers inevitable pain.  As Schopenhauer put it dramatically: “Tormentor and tormented are one. The former is mistaken in thinking he does not share the torment, the latter in thinking he does not share the guilt.” (The World as Will and Representation, p. 354) If solipsism is to be overcome, the both forms must be shown to be ill-conceived. Two different conceptions of the self must be shown to fail because, as Wittgenstein has already pointed out, solipsism can paradoxically draw both on the belief that only my experience is real and on the belief that no person enters essentially into sensory experience. I am uncertain as to whether Wittgenstein in his lectures already fully understood the implications of this discovery. For it meant that solipsism can be overcome only by showing both that the I is not a simple substance and that it is not nothing. That is precisely what he undertook to establish in the Blue Book.

The solipsist certainly cannot be refuted by the realist who says: “Surely my pains are real.” Both the solipsist and the realist are talking nonsense, for they are really arguing about a question of grammar, about which rules of language to adopt. This raises immediately questions about the status of such rules, as Wittgenstein goes on to say in the next lecture, on February 27. We may want to assert that “p makes sense, if it is constructed according to rules of grammar.” (p. 209) But if rules of grammar are arbitrary, then someone (like, presumably, the solipsist or equally the realist) can say “I make rules according to which” my proposition has sense.

Wittgenstein admits at this point that the notion of sense has misled him, just as the notion of meaning has. Instead of talking of the sense or meaning of propositions in general, we must keep in mind that we are always talking about particular examples of propositions, “about special language-games.” (And here we encounter what may well be Wittgenstein’s first use of that term.) Wittgenstein concludes that he can’t give “a general definition of ‘proposition’ anymore than of ‘game’: I can only give examples.” (p. 210) We can say that the sense of a proposition is its use but “this, of course, is vague.” (p. 211) The problem what sense is does in general not arise “because we know that nonsense always arises from forming symbols analogous to certain uses, where they have no use.” (p. 212)

How is this meant to apply to the case of tooth-ache? We need to recognize that in “I have tooth-ache” and “He has tooth-ache” the “verifications are different; but in different senses of ‘verification’.” (p. 212) In “I have tooth-ache” the word “I” does not refer to a person. We are misunderstanding the grammar when we assume that the two sentences share a function “x has tooth-ache” which can be satisfied by “I” and by “he” respectively. When I substitute a proper name for the “I” I am “altering the whole business: it is no longer [the] same function just with different arguments.” (p. 212) In the case of what Wittgenstein calls “primary experiences” the “I” does not denote a possessor. And it is at this point in his argument that he asserts the proposition I have already quoted: “Just as there is no ‘eye’ in seeing, there is no ‘Ego’ in thinking or having tooth-ache.” (p. 213)

On March 3, Wittgenstein turns to the question what it means to speak of my body is mine. The explanation we are most likely to give when asked about my tooth-ache would be to say that it is an ache I feel in my tooth and thus in my body. But Wittgenstein has already concluded with the help of a number of thought experiments that it is logically conceivable for me to feel a tooth-ache in your body. Talk about my body raises the new question what we mean by calling this body mine. “You are tempted to suppose that this means ‘The body which belongs to my soul,’ or ‘belongs to me’.” (p. 214) But we have already seen that whatever relationship exists here, it can certainly not be conceived in terms of ownership. But then “how do we decide which body is mine?” (p. 216) Wittgenstein does not offer us an answer.

He reminds us, instead, of Lichtenberg’s proposal that for “I think” we might say ‘It thinks.” It is evident, however, that Wittgenstein does not mean to agree with that proposal. He argues, rather, at the end of his lecture on March 3 that we should distinguish two uses of the word “I”. To explain the distinction he points out the difference between a slide in a magic lantern and the projected picture on the screen. “The picture in the lantern has neighbors; but the one on the screen has none.” (p. 216) Wittgenstein ends his lecture concluding that the word “I” is sometimes used to refer to something that is on a level with others, but there are also uses in which it is “a characterization of being on the screen, as opposed to being on the film.” (p. 216)  Wittgenstein will get back to this point in the Blue Book where he writes more straightforwardly that “there are two different cases in the use of the word ‘I’ (or ‘my’) which I might call the ‘the use as object’ and ‘the use as subject’.” An example of the former is “My arm is broken,” and of the second “I see so-and-so.”  (BB, p. 66) It is this distinction, I believe, which Wittgenstein to supply him with the means to overcome both the ego-based and the ego-less forms of solipsism that he had distinguished in his lectures.

On March 6, Wittgenstein returns right away to this point and declares that when I say that I have tooth-ache I do not make reference to any body. “I might have tooth-ache, even if there were no body – if my body was destroyed.” (p. 216) Similarly, we can say that “thinking may take place nowhere in physical space.” (p. 219) This returns him to the problem of solipsism. He admits that he has often been tempted to say “All that is real is the experience of the present moment,” “All that is certain is the experience of the present moment.” (p. 219) And with this, he turns in the following lecture on March 10 to the question what it means to say that something happened 5 minutes ago. He calls the idea that the only reality is the present experience one of “enormous importance” since everyone who is tempted to accept idealism or solipsism “knows the temptation to say this.” (p. 220) While Wittgenstein mentions the “mystification” surrounding our notion of time in the Blue Book (BB, p. 6), that work bypasses  the more detailed reflections on this theme in the 1933 lectures.



Looking over these five lectures as I have just done, one begins to feel sympathy for Moore’s despair. They don’t seem to have resolved the problems of behaviorism and solipsism and it is not even clear how Wittgenstein envisages their resolution. But all is not lost in those lectures and Moore gives up too quickly trying to sort out the course of Wittgenstein’s thinking. Or, rather, he gives up altogether on the course of Wittgenstein’s thinking and offers us, instead, an arrangements of propositions he has gleaned from his lecture notes.

But that course of thinking is precisely worth reconstructing. We saw that Wittgenstein was clear from the beginning about the fact that the propositions “I have tooth-ache” and “He has tooth-ache” differ in logical form. He grapples, however, unsuccessfully with the question how this difference is to be understood. He suggests, for instance, that they are verified in different ways. But Wittgenstein’s dissatisfaction with that answer is obvious and equally his dissatisfaction with all other ways of characterizing the difference. We will have to wait till the Blue Book before he finds an account that will satisfy him more.

A second point on which Wittgenstein is clear in his lectures that the realization that “I have tooth-ache” and “He has tooth-ache” are of different logical form lies behind our attraction to both behaviorism and solipsism. We might, in fact, think that he highlights the difficulty of adequately characterizing the difference precisely in order to show us why behaviorism and solipsism are attractive; they offer us an intuitively appealing, though deceptive resolution to our problem. The behaviorist points out that we know about the tooth-ache of the other person only through his behavior and he will suggests a complex analysis of the first person utterance as being about that person’s behavior (presumably from a third-person point of view). The solipsist begins his analysis from the first-person utterance and concludes that only his pain is real or only his pain is known and that we offer an analysis of the third-person case in which his experience is accounted for in terms of the solipsist’s. Behaviorism and solipsism thus turn out to be complementary attempts to resolve the vexing problem of determining the intuitively evident difference between first- and third-person utterances of pain. But both these metaphysical views offer us only unsatisfactory short-cuts. Wittgenstein dilemma is that cannot tell us how these shortcuts are to be avoided; he doesn’t as yet have a satisfactory alternative to offer.

Still, we see him making progress towards such an alternative. An important step  undertaken in the course of his lectures is to abandon the idea that a successful analysis of the two propositions has to avoid first-person terms like “I” and “my.” Instead, he concludes that the word “I” and its associates have two different uses and this, we know from the Blue Book, will prove to be an essential ingredient in the account he will offer us in the next phase of his thinking. He writes there that “the word ‘mind’ has meaning, i.e., has a use in our language; but saying this doesn’t yet say what kind of use we make of it.” (BB, pp. 69-70) We may feel at this point that Wittgenstein is not telling us enough about what that use is and that we have to wait till the Philosophical Investigations to hear more. This is surely a fair criticism, but Wittgenstein gives us some indication of what he has in mind that “it is as impossible that in making the statement ‘I have toothache’ I should have mistaken another person for myself, as it is to moan with pain by mistake, having mistaken someone else for me.” (BB, p. 67) This can’t mean that saying “I am in pain” is equivalent to moaning because in that case the word “I” would after all not be essential and presumably therefore not have any specific meaning. In the Blue Book Wittgenstein contents himself with the negative conclusion that our belief “that that which has pains or sees or thinks is of a mental nature is only that the word ‘I’ in ‘I have pains’ does not denote a particular body.” (BB, p. 74) In fact, it does not denote anything. But then what is its use? What does the word do? On that Wittgenstein s silent. Yet, even so, he has made progress over his earlier lectures in that he has come to understand that “I have tooth-ache” is not something that calls for verification at all. The utterance is, we might say, an avowal rather than a factual statement. And this was something that he had not understand in his lectures.



The Blue Book discussion of the problem of “personal experience” begins with reflections of a methodological sort. Solving philosophical problems is like arranging books on shelves. “Some of the greatest achievements in philosophy could only be compared with taking up books which seemed to belong together, and putting them on different shelves; nothing more being final about their positions than that they no longer lies side by side. The onlooker who doesn’t know the difficulty of the task might well think in such a case that nothing at all had been achieved.” (BB, pp. 44-45) Philosophy deals, in other words, always with specific and partial problems, as Wittgenstein had said already in his lectures. But that leaves us with the realization that “every new problem which arises may put in question the position which our previous partial results are to occupy in the final picture.” (BB, p. 44) There is, however, really no final picture, no ultimate, absolute ordering of the books in our philosophical library. There are partial results and further partial results which may lead us to reassess the initial partial results. “The difficulty in philosophy is to say no more than we can know. E.g., when we have put two books together in their right order we have not thereby put them in their final places.” (BB, p. 45) We can have no better picture of the dynamics of Wittgenstein’s thinking. Philosophy does not issue in absolute truths, the metaphor suggests but is the process in which we rethink ever new problems in an ever changing constellation. The metaphor of the library, put at the exact mid-point of the Blue Book, proves thus to be a decisive expression of Wittgenstein’s dynamic, “transactional” conception of philosophy.

We can see that dynamic at work in the changing ways in which the topic of personal experience is introduced in the lectures from the Spring of 1933 and then in the Blue Book. In the lectures, it is brought up initially in relation to the problem of behaviorism and then to that of realism, idealism, and solipsism. In the Blue Book, Wittgenstein relates it first to the problem of dualism, the belief that “that here we have two kinds of worlds, worlds built of material; a mental world and a physical world.” (BB, p. 47) He is evidently thinking here of Descartes as is made evident by his later remark that because the word “I” does not refer to something bodily “this creates the illusion that we use this word to refer to something bodiless, which, however, has its seat in the body. In fact this seems to be the real ego, the one of which it was said, ‘Cogito, ergo sum’.” (BB, p. 69) Having brought up dualism, Wittgenstein names the view that mental phenomena “arise when the material phenomena reach a certain complexity” – in other words emergentist or dialectical materialism. (BB, p. 47) There follow references to idealism and solipsism and finally to neutral monism, the view that “the whole world, mental and physical, is made of one material only.” (BB, p. 48) All these metaphysical views of the difference between the mental and the physical are to be disposed of as “caused by our way of expression.” (Ibid.)

By putting his problem into this broader philosophical context, Wittgenstein was adopting Russell’s characterization of the problem of “the mental” in the first chapter of his Analysis of Mind. Russell had distinguished there between a number of views of “consciousness”: behaviorism, realism and idealism, materialism and Cartesian dualism, and he had opposed all these views to his own neutral monism. In a formulation that closely resembles Wittgenstein’s he had characterized the latter view as maintaining that “the stuff of which the world of our experience is composed is, in my belief, neither mind nor matter, but something more primitive than either.” (The Analysis of Mind, p. 2) The resemblance is not accidental. There are, in fact, repeated references to The Analysis of Mind in the Blue Book – some explicit and some only implicit. These concern Russell’s views on the mental, but also his causal theory of desire as well as the use conception of meaning – which Russell had already adumbrated in  1922. I have not found a corresponding concern with Russell’s book in Wittgenstein’s preceding lectures. It appears then that the Blue Book marks a new determination on Wittgenstein’s part to engage with Russell’s more recent work. That may explain also why he was so keen for Russell to have a copy of the Blue Book. But we know, of course, that his attempt to enter once more into a dialogue with Russell did not succeed; their outlooks had moved too far apart.


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