58. "I want to restrict the term 'name' to what cannot occur in the combination
'X exists'.—Thus one cannot say 'Red exists', because if there were no red it
could not be spoken of at all."—Better: If "X exists" is meant simply to say:
"X" has a meaning,—then it is not a proposition which treats of X, but a
proposition about our use of language, that is, about the use of the word "X".
It looks to us as if we were saying something about the nature of red in saying
that the words "Red exists" do not yield a sense. Namely that
red does exist 'in
its own right'. The same idea—that this is a metaphysical statement about
red—finds expression again when we say such a thing as that red is timeless, and
perhaps still more strongly in the word "indestructible".
(Sophisticated second interlocutor)
But what we really want is simply to take "Red exists" as the statement: the
word "red" has a meaning. Or perhaps better: "Red does not exist" as "'Red' has
no meaning". Only we do not want to say that that expression says this, but that
this is what it would have to be saying if it meant anything. But that it
contradicts itself in the attempt to say it—just because red exists 'in its own
right'. Whereas the only contradiction lies in something like this: the
proposition looks as if it were about the colour, while it is supposed to be
saying something about the use of the word "red".
—In reality, however, we quite
readily say that a particular colour exists; and that is as much as to say that
something exists that has that colour. And the first expression is no less
accurate than the second; particularly where 'what has the colour' is not a
- As expositor, this is perhaps not W.'s finest hour.
- To be fair, however, W. is trying to write about sentences which are
confusing; they have confused philosophers
because they are partly about the world ('what exists in its own right' - a
phrase that occurs in this section twice), and partly about our language
game. Not surprisingly, he finds it hard to write satisfactorily about these
sentences, especially since he is trying not to appear to be doing
philosophy, and therefore is trying to avoid the impression that he is
examining these matters from a God-like perspective. In particular he wants
to avoid referring to the property in the world to which 'red' refers - red
in its own right. We suggest in the Criticism
page that it is this that makes the passage so complicated. (Does he actually need
to use a meta-language - an extraordinary language game - to
explain his view clearly of how OL is going wrong in this case? Yes. See our
- There are at least three players in this LG: (a) the word 'red';
(b) the sample (paradigm; exemplar) - which could be a memory or a
physical object (or a picture) (c) the world (though he is uneasy
about this one).
- He insists that there is no philosophical/metaphysical/transcendental argument that can
somehow prove that an aspect of the world necessarilyx exists. His
younger self thought this, mistakenly. All aspects of the world are contingent.
- The impression that red necessarilyx exists in the world can
be generated by
the rogue sentence: "Red exists" - "or perhaps better" by the rogue sentence:
"Red does not exist". This appears to be necessarilyx
false: If it is false, it is, well, false; but if it is true, it is false.
Why? Because as a precondition for being
false it has to be meaningful, but if it is meaningful, 'red' must
refer to an aspect of things in the world. So if we understand the sentence,
it is false. In other words, by understanding the (meaning of the) claim "Red does not exist"
we necessarily confirm that red does exist.
- Something has silly is going on. The philosopher has been seduced into pretending that
she can play
contradictory roles, being simultaneously an ordinary language user in this
world, and also a God-like commentator on everything. The sentence has the
form of a pure claim about the world, but is actually a mixed claim, partly
about the world, and partly about language - about a condition, at the
setting-up stage, for names in a language to gain a meaning.
- What then is the structure of this section?
The Structure of the Section
- At the beginning, and at the end, of the main body of this section, W.
insists that "Red exists" is a sentence about, and apparently purely about,
language - about the use of the word 'red' - not about the world. 'Red exists' looks as though it is a simple claim about a colour
- that is to say, in the world - but it is not.
- Now the more sophisticated interlocutor, attempting to sort out what is
going on, introduces something that W.
disapprovingly labels 'metaphysical': the red(ness) that exists in its own
right, in the world. For W. that is an unwelcome stranger; the limits of
language are the limits of what can be said, clearly, and redness, as
opposed to 'red' is beyond this limit. (OL)"Red does not exist" does not literally, in OL, say "'Red'
has no meaning'". In ordinary language it is just meaningless - or, more
accurately, it "contradicts itself", because to understand what it is
claiming, we have to understand what 'red' means, and to understand that,
redness must exist, so that the sentence seems self-refuting. Redness, as a
matter of fact, just does exist 'in its own right'. This seems fine - but it
is in coloured font, to indicate that W. disapproves of it. The
sophisticated interlocutor is doing his best, but he is still not quite
right, because he is invoking the extra-linguistic entity that exists in its