Philosophy of Language: Wittgenstein (PHIL-4420; 6273)                      

Dr. Edgar Boedeker

Spring 2014: Tuesdays & Thursdays, 12:30-1:45pm, in Lang Hall 20


Office hours: 3:10-4:00pm Mondays and 2:15-3:00pm Thursdays in my office, 2099 Bartlett.  I would also be happy to meet with you at another time.  To arrange a meeting, just send me an e-mail at or give me a call at 273-7487.


Required books (available at University Book & Supply):

-          Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy (New York: Dover, 1999; or any of the other editions of this text by various publishers).

-          Ludwig Wittgenstein, Major Works: Selected Philosophical Writings, Harper Collins, 2009, (ISBN 978-0-06-155024-9) (or Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and On Certainty separately, although these are more expensive than the Major Works).

-          Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (revised 4th edition; translated by Anscombe, Hacker, and Schulte) Wiley-Blackwell, 2009 (ISBN: 978-1-4051-5929-6).


Course description: Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) was one of the most important philosophers of the 20th Century.  One of his achievements was to demonstrate how important language is for understanding philosophical questions.  We will begin by examining his first book, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921), which gives a philosophical foundation to the new logic introduced by Gottlob Frege (1848-1925) and Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), and develops a view of language as essential to thought.  We will then follow Wittgenstein as his perspective on language broadens from formal logic, to the various roles language plays in people’s lives, examining his revolutionary views of knowledge, understanding, and mind and some of their applications in contemporary philosophy.


Course goals: This course has three main goals:

(1)   to introduce you to some of the main issues in Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language; 

(2)   to help you analyze and evaluate arguments; and

(3)   to give you practice in writing cogently and persuasively.


Course format: Class meetings will consist of a mixture of lecture and discussion.  In order to benefit from both, it is essential that you do all of the reading for each class.  One of the most important things that this course will offer you is the opportunity to hone your interpretive, argumentative, and rhetorical skills by writing several papers on the often difficult texts we will be reading. 



1. Two papers on an important aspect of one of the texts we read.  Your first paper will relate to Wittgenstein’s early work, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus; and your second paper will relate to his later On Certainty and Philosophical Investigations.  Suggested paper topics are linked to their due-dates.

- The first paper, due on Tuesday, March 4, should be around 6-7 pages in length, and will be worth 25% of your final grade. 

- The final paper, due in my mailbox (??? Bartlett) by 4pm on Tuesday, May 6, should be should be around 7-9 pages in length and will be worth 35% of your final grade.  Please feel free to discuss your papers with me as you write them. 


I strongly encourage you to co-write your paper with (just) one other member of the class.  Co-writing is an increasingly important skill in such fields as business, science, academia, law, etc.  Since I will hold a co-written paper to exactly the same standards as a single-authored paper, it may well be to your advantage to co-write a paper.  After all, two heads are better than one!  If you co-write a paper, however, please make sure that you and your co-author both check it for consistency in style, verb tense, coherence, etc. 


2. 40% of your final grade will come from 10 “analytic response papers” from 1 to 2 pages in length on a study question or a topic of your choosing.  Analytic response papers will be graded with a check (4% of final grade), check-plus (6% of final grade), or check-minus (2% of final grade).  See the syllabus for due-dates.  No extensions whatsoever will be granted for these analytic response papers.  It goes without saying that this applies also to the last 2 weeks of class.

The purpose of the analytic response papers is to encourage you to do each reading assignment, and to come to class prepared to discuss it.  They may be turned within a week after we have discussed the topic in question. 

3. Class participation: I expect that all students will participate actively and constructively in classroom discussions.  Asking questions and responding to what I or fellow students say are excellent ways for you to learn.  Doing so regularly will boost your final grade by up to two-thirds of a letter-grade, for example, from a B+ to an A.  On the other hand, if your presence in class contributes to a negative learning environment (for example, repeatedly coming to class late, or treating fellow students with disrespect), this can reduce your final grade by one third of a letter grade.

4. Attendance: I reserve the right to take attendance at the beginning of each class period.  (Fortunately, I have rarely had to do this in my advanced philosophy classes!)  You are permitted two unexplained absences during the semester.  For each unexplained absence beyond these two, your final grade will be reduced by one third of a letter grade.  For example, someone with a B+ average with 5 unexplained absences (i.e., 3 more than the 2 allowed) will receive a C+ in the course.  The only explanations I will accept are a doctor’s note, funeral announcement, and the like.

I realize that this is a fairly strict attendance policy.  I have instituted it mainly because much of the learning that you will do in this course will take place in class.  Asking questions, raising objections, and listening to others are important skills that you will get to practice in class discussions.  In addition, coming to class is necessary to doing well in this course.

Each time that I notice you ‘texting’ on an electronic device, I will ask you to leave, and will reduce your final grade by 1/3 of a letter grade, e.g., from B to B-.  I have instituted this policy because texting is very distracting to me, reduces my ability to teach effectively, and hence does a disservice to the students in the class.


5. I reserve the right to hold, from time to time throughout the semester, brief quizzes, whether announced or unannounced, on straightforward questions of technical terms, key concepts, etc.  All told, these will be worth no more than 20% of your final grade.


Criteria for writing and evaluating a paper.  You are responsible for reading the syllabus carefully, a forteriori including this section, and for writing your papers in conformity to these guidelines.

I. Thesis (20 points). 

A. Does your essay have a clear, informative, and compelling thesis that appears at the end of an interesting introduction that explains why your thesis matters, why it is important?

B. Is your thesis new, an original, creative and compelling insight into the text and issue under consideration?  Do you set the historical and cultural context for this thesis, explaining why this thesis is important and therefore giving the reader a reason to take interest in your essay?

II. Support of thesis (60 points).

A. Thesis defense. Does your essay have a consecutive argument that defends your thesis, carefully moving the reader from one point to the next (or does it simply run in place)?  Your aim is not to prove to the reader that your thesis is iron-clad, but to show that it is reasonable, that what you see in the text is there to be seen.  So do you cite and quote evidence from the text (a good rule of thumb is to use three examples), and do you explain how that evidence supports your thesis?  Do you lead the reader through your argument, one step at a time, explicitly telling me how that step supports your thesis?

Remember that the reasons you give for or against an argument should be more than simply your beliefs or opinions.  Rather, they should be potentially convincing to someone else, even if this person may not initially share your beliefs or opinions.  After all, are you convinced that something is true just because someone else happens to believe it?  Thus in trying to bring your reader over to your side, make sure to meet him or her in the middle by appealing to reasons that they might accept.

B. Evidence and reasoning. Does your essay have adequate citation and quotations from relevant texts that support the argument of the paper, and do you explain how those citations and quotations in fact support the argument?

C. Consistency. Does your essay demonstrate internal consistency or ways of handling contradiction and paradox as they emerge in the argument?

D. Addressing an objection. Does your essay show an awareness of a possible objection to your thesis?  Does your essay address this objection?

III. Style and presentation (20 points).

A. Does your essay

1.      avoid grammatical, spelling, and punctuation errors?  (This is very important, since the reader can’t help but take these factors as indicating the author’s care in writing the paper.)

2.      have clear and well-structured sentences, paragraphs, and arguments?

3.      have properly defined key terms?

4.      have properly documented quotes?  Page numbers in parentheses placed after the quote are sufficient if you are dealing with just one text.

B. Succinctness. Is every paragraph, sentence, and even every word absolutely necessary to your argument (or do you have irrelevant material and rambling discussion)?


Notes on the papers:

One thing that a philosophy paper should not be is a “book report”, i.e., an attempt to summarize an entire philosophical text.  Instead, a good philosophy paper should give a close analysis of a single key argument in a text.  An “argument” in this sense isn’t a verbal fight (this isn’t the Jerry Springer Show, after all!).  Rather, an argument is a chain of reasoning from certain statements (called the “premises”) to another statement (called the “conclusion”) that the argument claims is supported by the premises. 

A good philosophy paper contains both an analysis of such an argument and some criticism of it.  A good criticism generally consists of either (1) reasons why one or more of the premises of the argument is false, or (2) reasons why the premises in fact do not support the conclusion (in which case the conclusion still might be false even if the premises were true).  You may or may not agree with the argument; and you may or may not agree with your criticism of it.  This doesn’t matter for the purposes of this course.  Remember that the reasons you give for or against an argument should be more than simply your beliefs or opinions.  Rather, they should be potentially convincing to someone else, even if this person may not initially share your beliefs or opinions.  After all, are you convinced that something is true just because someone else happens to believe it?  So don’t just state whether or not you agree with the author’s conclusion.  Instead, try to give reasons for or against the author’s argument for this conclusion.

In my experience, the most common way for paper grades to suffer is due to a lack of documentation in the texts.  You should use direct citations sparingly – generally only if the exact wording of the passage is either directly relevant to the argument you’re making, or particularly clear and concise.  (Short direct citations should be placed in quotation-marks; direct citations over 3 lines long should be offset and indented, without quotation-marks.)  In other cases, use indirect citation – paraphrasing in your own words what the author says, and telling the reader where s/he says it.


Further note: Each semester, I teach almost 100 students. Although I give each as much individual time and attention as I possibly can during the semester, I will not be able to send you your individual grade for the course at the end of the semester. I submit the grades to the Registrar as soon as I can during the week of final exams, and ask you to kindly wait see your grade until it has been reported electronically.


Website: The Department of Philosophy and World Religions has relatively few funds available for photocopying (or for anything else, for that matter!). The great majority of our course materials will therefore be placed on our website: There you will find the following:

- our syllabus (i.e., this document),

- worksheets for you to fill out and hand in on the readings and videos,

- handouts (which are for you to keep) outlining lectures,

- materials for use in in-class group projects, and

- suggested paper topics.

Please check the website frequently for updates.


I strongly recommend that you purchase a 3-ring binder to organize and store the various handouts for this class.


MAILSERV: From time to time, I will send announcements pertaining to the class via e-mail.  Please check your e-mail every morning prior to class just to make sure that class isn’t cancelled due to some unforeseen event (illness, etc.).  To facilitate our electronic communication, a MAILSERV distribution list has been created for this class using your UNI e-mail addresses.  The list members include myself and is supposed to be constantly updated to include just those students who are registered for the class at a given time.  The Powers that Be allow only me, and not students, to send to the list.


Cheating and plagiarism: It is your responsibility to read UNI’s Student Academic Ethics Policy (Chapter 3.01 of UNI’s Policies and Procedures Manual, available at  Using the terminology defined in this document, please note the following:

Any student who commits a Level One violation will receive no credit for the entire assignment in question.

Any student who commits a Level Two violation will receive no credit for the entire assignment in question; and, in addition, a reduction in the course grade by two full letter grades, i.e., 20% (e.g., from a B- to a D-).

Any student who commits a Level Three violation is mandated by the University to receive a disciplinary failure for the course. (This will automatically appear on the student’s transcript.)  As your professor, UNI also requires me to reprimand the student in writing in the form of a letter addressed to the student and copied to the faculty department head, the student’s department head (if different) and the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost.

Disabilities: I will make every effort to accommodate disabilities.  Please contact me if I can be of assistance in this area.  All qualified students with disabilities are protected under the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C.A., Section 12101.  The ADA states that “no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.”  Students who desire or need instructional accommodations or assistance because of their disability should contact the Office of Disability Services located in 213 Student Services Center (273-2676 Voice, or 273-3011 TTY).


Tentative course schedule:

I. Language from a logical point of view: Frege, Russell, and Wittgenstein’s Tractatus

January 14: Introduction: language, logic, and the foundations of arithmetic in the 19th Century; please read for this first class John Locke (1632-1704), from An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689) (available at  Be warned, however, you won’t want to print out this whole URL, since it contains all of Books III and IV and is very long.  The part I'd like you to read is right at the beginning:



and only sections 1-13 of Chapter III (“OF GENERAL TERMS”). 

Analytic response paper topics for the first two weeks.


January 16: Do concept-words signify “abstract ideas”?
George Berkeley (1685-1753), A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, sections 6 through the end of the Introduction, and the first part up through section 26 (“No Idea of Sprit”), available at (as with the assignment from Locke, you also won’t want to print out this whole URL, as it’s very long as well). 
[Not required, but optional: Gottlob Frege (1848-1925), “Function and Concept” (1891), pp. 21-35, 39; Frege, “On Sense [Sinn] and Meaning/Reference [Bedeutung]” (1892), pp. 56-65; and Frege, Basic Laws of Arithmetic, Volume I (1893) §§1-3, §5.]

January 21: More on the meaning of concept-words: Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), The Problems of Philosophy (1912), Chapters VIII (“How a priori Knowledge is Possible”), IX (“The World of Universals”), and the first 6 paragraphs of Chapter X (“On Our Knowledge of Universals”).


[Not required, but optional: Frege, Conceptual Notation (= Begriffsschrift, 1879), §§1-3, 5 (this link also contains reading for February 5); Foundations of Arithmetic (1884), “Introduction” and §§1-4; Basic Laws of Arithmetic, Volume I (1893), §32-33.]

January 23: Wittgenstein, Tractatus (1921), propositions 1 to 3.144 (pp. 5-14).

January 28: Deadline for first 2 analytic response papers.  Read Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), The Problems of Philosophy (1912), last 5 paragraphs of Chapter IV (“Idealism”) and all of Chapter V (“Knowledge by Acquaintance and Knowledge by Description”), pp. 28-40.

Then read Tractatus, propositions 3.2 to 4.26 (pp. 14-37). 

But don’t read the following passages:[*]

3.315, 3.316, 3.317 (on pp. 17-18).

3.331, 3.332, 3.333 (on pp. 19-20).

4.0411 (on p. 27).

4.1252 (on p. 33).

4.1273 (on p. 35).

{Note: In 4.032 (on p. 26), “ambulo” is Latin for “I walk.”  Latin indicates both the verb (here, “walk”) and the person (here, “I,”  the first person singular) in one word, whereas English uses two words to do this.}


January 30: Tractatus, propositions 4.27 to 5.143 (pp. 38-48).

{Note: The first sentence of 4.27 (on p. 38) could read: “There are 2n possibilities of existence and non-existence for n states of affairs.”

And 4.42 (on p. 39) could read: “There are 22ⁿ ways in which n elementary propositions can agree and disagree with reality.”  A simpler way to put it would be that there are 22ⁿ different propositions that can be formed using n elementary propositions.

Finally, the first sentence of 4.45 (on p. 40) could read: “There are 22ⁿ possible groups of truth-conditions for n elementary propositions.”}

February 4: The purpose of a logical symbolism: René Descartes (1596-1651), letter to Marin Mersenne from November 20, 1629; G.W.F. Leibniz (1646-1716), Meditations on Knowledge, Truth, and Ideas (1684); Frege, “On the scientific justification of a conceptual notation” (1882); and Begriffsschrift (= Conceptual Notation; 1879), “Preface” (this link is the same as one for January 22).”  Russell and Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947), Principia Mathematica (1910), pp. 1-9, 90-94.

February 6: The nature of logical truth: Lewis Carroll (a.k.a. C.L. Dodgson; 1832-1898), “What the tortoise said to Achilles” (1895); Russell, The Problems of Philosophy Chapters X and XI (“On Our Knowledge of Universals” and “On Intuitive Knowledge”), pp. 58-85; also “The Philosophical Importance of Mathematical Logic” (1911); and “Logical Data” from Theory of Knowledge (1913).


February 11: Tractatus, propositions 5.15 to 5.5571 (pp. 48-68)

But don’t read the following passages:

5.441 (on p. 54).

5.47 (on p. 56).

5.501, 5.502 (on pp. 58-59).

5.51 (on p. 59).

5.52, 5.521, 5.522, 5.523, 5.524 (on p. 61).

Don’t read the first sentence of 5.525 (on p. 61), but do read the rest of the section.

5.5261 (on p. 62).

5.532, 5.5321 (on p. 63).

5.5352 (on p. 64).

{Note: In 5.4541 (on p. 55), “Simplex sigillum veri” is Latin for “simplicity is the sign of truth.”

Also, in 5.47321, Occam’s maxim (also known as “Occam’s razor”) says that entities are not to be multiplied without necessity; that is, of two theories that explain observed phenomena equally well, we should prefer the simpler theory; Bertrand Russell appeals frequently to this principle.  Finally, in 5.535 (on p. 63), Russell’s “axiom of infinity” states that there are an infinite number of individual objects.  Russell needs this to be true in order for his theory of arithmetic to work.}


February 13: Tractatus, propositions 6 to 6.3751 (pp. 70-86).

Do read proposition 6 (on p. 70), but don’t be scared by it!  If you want to understand his symbolism, he explains it at 5.2521-5.2523 (on pp. 51-52) and 5.5-5.51 (on pp. 58-59).  Also see pp. xv-xviii of Russell’s Introduction to the book.

But don’t read the following passages:

6.01, 6.02, 6.021, 6.022, 6.03, 6.031 (on pp. 70-71).

Do read 6.1201 (on p. 72), but skip the last sentence.

6.1203 (on pp. 73-74) is optional.  Play around with it if you like, but the symbolism here really just does the same thing as the one introduced between 4.3 and 4.46 (on pp. 38-41) and 5.101 (on pp. 44f).

6.241 (on p. 80) – for heaven’s sake!!

6.36111 (on p. 84).

{Note: in 6.1232 and 6.1233 (on p. 76), Russell’s “axiom of reducibility” states that every statement about concepts, types of concepts, etc., can be re-stated, or “reduced”, to a statement about ordinary old individual objects.  He needs this to be true in order for his theory of types, and hence his theory of arithmetic, to work.

In 6.1264 (on p. 77), modus ponens is the form of inference from a conditional proposition and the antecedent of the conditional to the consequent of the conditional.  For example, from the propositions “If it rains, then the streets get wet” and “It rains”, one can infer that the streets get wet.  In logical symbols, modus ponens has the form: “[(r É s) . r] É s” .}


February 18: Tractatus, propositions 5.6 to 5.641 (pp. 68-70), propositions 6.4 to 7 (pp. 86-89); “Preface” (pp. 3-4); re-read propositions 4.111 to 4.116 (pp. 29-30).  Also read Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), Leviathan (1655), Chapter IV “Of Speech”; and Wittgenstein, “A lecture on ethics” (1929).

{Note: in 6.45 (on p. 88), “sub specie aeterni” is Latin for “under the aspect of eternity.”  The philosopher Baruch Spinoza uses this term in his Ethics (1677) to talk about the mystical, or “intuitive”, way of seeing the world not as a complicated set of distinct individual things, but as a single unified whole.}

If you have time, at this point you might want to take a step back to get the big picture of the Tractatus, by re-reading (in the following order, from left to right) propositions:

6.1 to 6.1201 (on pp. 71-72), 6.124 to 6.1271 (on pp. 76-78),        2.02 to 2.0212 (on p. 7),

3.23 to 3.26 (on pp. 15-16), 4.12 to 4.1213 (on pp. 30-31),             4.241 to 4.243 (on pp. 36-7),

5.53 to 5.531 (on pp. 62-63),               5.533 to 5.5352 (on pp. 62-63).

February 20: Wittgenstein’s first criticisms of the Tractatus: “Some remarks on logical form” (1929); and the excerpt from G.E. Moore’s “Wittgenstein’s Lectures in 1930-1933.”

II. On Certainty: knowledge and skepticism (note that pages for On Certainty refer to the separate edition, not Major Works)

February 25: Russell, The Problems of Philosophy, chapters I and II (“Appearance and Reality” and “The Existence of Matter”), pp. 1-16; deadline for first 4 analytic response papers.  Here are some topics for analytic response papers.

February 27: G.E. Moore (1873-1958), “A Defense of Common Sense” (1925), pp. 32-45; “Proof of an External World” (1939), pp. 141-150.

March 4: On Certainty §§1-192 (pp. 2-27); and first paper due.

March 6: On Certainty §§193-454 (pp. 27-58).

March 11: On Certainty §§455-676 (pp. 59-90).

III. Philosophical Investigations: Meaning, use, rules, and “private language”

March 13: naming, saying, and the uses of language: Philosophical Investigations §§1-26; read Paul Grice (1913-1988), “Logic and Conversation” (1975); deadline for first 6 analytic response papers.

March 25: critique of logical atomism: PI §§27-64.

March 27: games and “family resemblances”: PI §§65-107.

April 1: method in philosophy: PI §§106-137; strongly recommended reading: excerpts from J.L. Austin’s (1911-1960) How to Do Things with Words (1955). Handout Worksheet Pop-quiz.

April 3: understanding and rules: PI §§138-184.

April 8: critique of “mentalistic” accounts of understanding and rules: PI §§185-242; strongly recommended reading: excerpts from John Searle’s (born 1932) Speech Acts (1969).

April 10: the (im)possibility of a private language: read the excerpt from Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass (1871); and PI §§243-315 (pp. 88-104).

April 15: more on private languages: PI §§316-427.


IV. Philosophy of psychology: emotions, intentions, and other “mental states”

April 17: intentionality: PI §§428-490, especially §§428-465; deadline for first 8 analytic response papers.

April 22: the “autonomy of grammar” and against causal theories of meaning: PI §§491-521.

April 24: more on meaning and use, and identity and difference of meaning: PI §§521-570.

April 29: methodology in psychology: PI §§571-610; and “the will” and voluntary action: PI §§611-628.

May 1: intending: PI §§629-660; and meaning something: §§661-693; deadline for first 10 analytic response papers.

Tuesday, May 6: Final paper due by 4pm in the office of the Department of Philosophy and World Religions, ??? Bartlett.  Please submit a hard copy printout, not an e-mail attachment.

[*] Note on the Tractatus passages not to read: Before you start reading the book, save yourself some time and effort in the long run, and take ten minutes to mark these passages in some way (red ink, blood, skull and crossbones, etc.). 

Also, please don’t read Russell’s Introduction to the book!!!  It has misled generations of readers of the Tractatus, and it’s time to turn over a new leaf.  Wittgenstein himself said that it consisted of nothing but “superficiality and misunderstanding”, and didn’t want it printed with the Tractatus, even if this would have prevented the book from being published.