§55. "What the names in language signify must be indestructible; for it must be possible to describe the state of affairs in which everything destructible is destroyed. And this description will contain words; and what corresponds to these cannot then be destroyed, for otherwise the words would have no meaning." I must not saw off the branch on which I am sitting.
One might, of course, object at once that this description would have to except itself from the destruction.—But what [that which] corresponds to the separate words of the description and so cannot be destroyed if it is true, is what gives the words their meaning—is that without which they would have no meaning.—In a sense, however, this man is surely what corresponds to his name. But he is destructible, and his name does not lose its meaning when the bearer is destroyed.

—An example of something corresponding to the name, and without which it would have no meaning, is a paradigm that is used in connexion with the name in the language-game.


  1. W. chooses this as an illuminating example of his method, applied to the dissolution of a traditional philosophical problem - which he tackled in his younger days. In his Tractatus he had proposed that the simples, to which the atoms in atomic sentences refer, must exist - and used the argument which he now criticises. (Remember that he planned to print these Investigations side by side with the Tractatus, so he could display his earlier foolishness)
  2. The case of 'Moses' is more complicated than the case of 'one metre long'. The man called 'Moses' can cease to exist, as a physical object, while 'Moses' continues to have meaning - and we can explain how this works, in terms of books, pictures, and memory. Words whose use is linked more precisely to a standard (sample; paradigm) stand or fall more closely with the paradigm's existence.
  3. The bar of platinum-iridium (§50) could be destroyed, along with all other rulers. When this happens, the words 'One metre long' would lose one particular, important, use: As a description of the length of an object. If someone tried to use them in this way, they would just be empty marks on paper, or sounds. To say "This block is one metre long" would be as meaningless as saying "This block is 2.6 howards long". Other uses would survive, such as "There was once a bar of platinum-iridium kept in Paris which was used as the standard for a unit of length called the 'metre'".