§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
—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.
- 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)
- 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.
- 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'".