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  • Mensurable Confusion?Wittgenstein's Meter-Stick and Beyond
  • Kelly Dean Jolley

I certainly find it easier to recognize the deep continuities within Wittgenstein's thought, than the real nature of the contrasts: one only comes to recognize these for what they are after prolonged engagement with the two works.

—R. M. White, Understanding Wittgenstein 23


Heather Gert has offered a reading of Investigations §§ 46-50. Her attention devolves primarily on the notorious standard meter paragraph of § 50. Important to her reading is her conviction about what it is from the Tractatus that is being criticized and about how it is being criticized.

I believe Gert's reading of the passage is mistaken. Gert fails to get fully into focus what is happening in the distance, in the Tractatus, and she fails to get into focus what is happening nearby, in Investigations §§ 46-50. Her failures to get these happenings into focus seem to be the result, in part, of a misunderstanding of Wittgenstein's philosophical method, of his metaphilosophical remarks. Her failures also seem to be the result, in part, of a prephilosophical conviction about the standard meter, of what is supposedly obviously true of it.

My article runs beyond Gert's. I say this by way of warning, but not (much) by way of apology. My interest in Gert's article is, so to speak, larger than Gert's article itself. While Gert's article is, in a way, the subject of this article, I am primarily interested in her article as exhibitory of a number of confusions about Wittgenstein's philosophizing. So, I often widen my focus, examining more than Gert's article itself. This means that I may, on occasion, give Gert's minutiae less than the central place in what I say, and that I may, again on occasion, attribute a generic view to Gert without sorting out in full detail the specific view she holds. Of course, I intend my attributions of a generic view to be correct. Since Gert expends a lot of energy providing [End Page 105] and talking about readings of Wittgenstein, I expend a lot of energy on those tasks too. My changes of focus slow the development of the argument, but they are meant ultimately to deepen it.1

Gert opposes what she calls "the received interpretation" of the meter-stick passage. I oppose her opposition; I support the received interpretation—at least, I support a version of it.

I start with Gert's reading of the focal passage, the second paragraph of § 50. I then move, in part at Gert's prodding, into a discussion of Tractarian ultimate elements. Next, I look more closely at Gert's reasons for reading the meter-stick passage as she does, and I look more carefully at her reading of the remarks leading up to the focal passage, §§ 46-49, especially § 48. After more discussion of § 50, I fasten on Gert's way of understanding language-games, and I show both that her way of understanding them generally is mistaken, and that her mistake is crucial to the way that she reads § 50. I also diagnose her mistake. I then marshal forces both from the Tractatus and the Investigations, and I use them to attack further Gert's reading of the focal passage. I turn at that point to the task of giving my specific version of the received interpretation. The final section of the article I devote to discussing Wittgenstein's method and Gert's misunderstanding of it.

Gert Begins Her Reading

Gert begins her reading by reminding her readers of some of the difficulties of reading the Investigations. She points out that, throughout the remarks that compose the book, Wittgenstein speaks in voices—sometimes his own, sometimes that of a philosophical alter-ego. But these are not all Wittgenstein's voices. There is another voice, Wittgenstein's, yet not Wittgenstein's—a voice in which Wittgenstein quesserts (to twist Richard Grandy's handy term). Passages quesserted are passages in which Wittgenstein rephrases a view he is about to attack, or in which he describes a problematic view in terms meant to highlight, or help highlight, its problems.

Having told us...


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