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 physical object.


  1. As expositor, this is perhaps not W.'s finest hour.
  2. 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 (Alice's) criticism)
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. What then is the structure of this section?

The Structure of the Section

  1. 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.
  2. 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 own right.