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the Wörterbuch für Volksschulen

Désirée Weber

In the spring of 1923, Leopoldine Eichberger was practicing her orthography and grammar lessons under the watchful eye and strict guidance of Ludwig Wittgenstein, elementary school teacher. She was one of many elementary school pupils that Wittgenstein taught between 1920 and 1926, in the small villages of lower Austria. During that particular school year, he led his class in a project to make their own dictionaries: they collected words they were having trouble with, they hand-dyed the stiff paper used for the covers, and they bound everything together with red ribbon.
This period of Wittgenstein’s life usually gets passed over as a curiosity or a surprising point of trivia. However, his training and occupation during these six years – not to mention the remaining artifacts of his efforts – shed new light on and heighten the significance of the prevalent teaching and learning references woven into his later philosophy. Instead of a break from his prior philosophical interests and method, Wittgenstein’s years as a teacher reveal his continued interest in the philosophy of language and its practical, everyday manifestations.
In 1926, as a culmination of the dictionary project he had his students complete, Wittgenstein published the Wörterbuch für Volksschulen [Dictionary for Elementary Schools]. Known as the second of only two works published in Wittgenstein’s lifetime, it is the most important touchstone that links these two periods of his life and work.
Published versions of the dictionary do exist but are rare but, so to understand Wittgenstein’s method at the time of its composition and its relation to his later philosophical work, more research on its provenance was warranted. Luckily, a few artifacts, manuscripts, and correspondences related to the Dictionary have survived. Besides the so-called preface to the Dictionary, a set of publisher’s proof pages with copious marginalia is the most promising prospect for insight into the process by which the Dictionary took shape. It was this document, held in a private collection, which I tracked down and have since examined.
This set of proof pages is composed of 10 sheets interlaid booklet-style, with the word entries arranged in three columns. The editorial marks that fill the margins are rendered in 3 different colors and at times overlap one another. The first page of each section bears the stamp of Adolf Holzhausen, head editor of the Dictionary’s publisher (Hölder-Pichler-Tempsky), and a well-known Viennese patron of academic research.
Although there is some question whether or which of the marks are in Wittgenstein’s own hand, the contents of the dictionary and the corrections yield a fascinating view of the words that Wittgenstein deemed central to the forms of life and language-games in which his students were immersed. Many entries such as Alm (mountain pasture) and Senner (alpine shepherd) relate directly to the geography, and locale in which Wittgenstein taught. Other common categories of words have to do with religion (Apostel, Philister) or may have formed the basis of Wittgenstein’s other lessons for the school children, including about Arabic numerals (arabische Ziffern) and rules (Regel).
Noteworthy is also Wittgenstein’s inclusion of words and descriptions that refer to the children’s dialect or colloquial usage. Some word entries make note of “Mundart” or how a particular word would be used in the specific region of Austria in which he taught. The care with which he selected and constructed this dictionary is evident, and is also in line with what is known of his punctilious approach to his philosophical endeavors before and after his career as a teacher.
The Dictionary is thus a link from Wittgenstein’s years as an elementary school teacher to works such as the Brown Book and the Philosophical Investigations. The connection goes beyond the frequent references to teaching that can be found in these later works: the influence of his previous career is also palpable in his focus on the processes by which someone – usually a child – learns a word or language-game anew. In this process, the ‘agreements in judgment’ necessary for meaningful language use are continuously renegotiated. Questions about the basis on which to ground language (if that is possible at all), in turn, get to the heart of Wittgenstein’s method and insights in the years after his return to Cambridge in 1929.

Désirée Weber received her PhD from Northwestern University, completed under the supervision of James Farr and John G. Gunnell, in 2016. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Political Theory at the College of Wooster in Ohio.

Seventeenth BWS Lecture

Rule-Following and Reflective Judgement

Dr Hanne Appelqvist

May 22nd, 2017

@ 6:15 pm - 8:00 pm

Bloomsbury, 50 Bedford Square

London WC1B 3DP


About the Speaker
Speaker Bibliography
About the Reporter

About the Speaker

Hanne Appelqvist is Docent of Theoretical Philosophy at the University of Helsinki and a Fellow of the Turku Institute for Advanced Studies. She received her PhD degree from Columbia University in 2007. In her dissertation Wittgenstein and the Conditions of Musical Communication (Acta Philosophical Fennica 85, 2008) she defended a formalist interpretation of Wittgenstein’s remarks on music. Since then, she has worked on Wittgenstein’s ethics, aesthetics, philosophy of religion, and philosophy of language from the viewpoint of the Kantian interpretation of Wittgenstein philosophy. Her work has appeared in journals such as the British Journal for the History of Philosophy, History of Philosophy Quarterly, the British Journal of Aesthetics, and Metaphilosophy. Appelqvist is currently preparing a book manuscript on the relevance of aesthetic judgment for Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language.   



SELECTED Bibliography

Appelqvist, H. (2019). Wittgenstein and the Limits of Language (1st ed.). Routledge. Cite
Appelqvist, H. (2016). On Wittgenstein’s Kantian Solution of the Problem of Philosophy. British Journal for the History of Philosophy, 24(4), 697–719. Cite
Appelqvist, H. (2017). Representation and Reality in Wittgenstein's Tractatus. British Journal for the History of Philosophy, 25(1), 217–219. Cite
Appelqvist, H. (2011). On Music, Wine, and the Criteria of Understanding. SATS: Northern European Journal of Philosophy, 12(1), 18–35. Cite


According to Wittgenstein, the understanding of language is a normative phenomenon. It is not yet enough that my application of words and sentences conforms to the rules that are constitutive of their uses in our language. If I understand, then my behavior ought to be internally related to the rule so that I can appeal to the rule in justifying my application thereof. However, as Wittgenstein states repeatedly, such justifications given by explicit rule-formulations come to an end. This talk will address the moment of reaching the bedrock that marks the boundary where justifications come to an end, where my grasp of the rules takes a form other than interpretation, where I follow the rule but do so ‘blindly’. It will do this by discussing Wittgenstein’s way of connecting the moment of ‘blind rule-following’ with the understanding of a musical theme. The talk argues that the understanding of music is evoked as an example of a judgment that is normative in spite of resisting conceptual justifications. In this respect, Wittgenstein’s appeal to musical understanding may be seen as relevantly similar to Kant’s appeal to reflective judgment, epitomized by a judgment of beauty, as one that ends the regress of conceptual justifications for the application of conceptual rules to sensible particulars.



by Fionn O’Donovan


The lecture began with a consideration of Wittgenstein’s paradox about rule-following. For Wittgenstein, Appelqvist suggested, it is not sufficient for an action to (properly speaking) accord with a rule for it to "fit" with the rule. That might happen as a result of sheer luck. To count as understanding, the agent’s behaviour and the rule must be internally related: for instance, the agent will be able to appeal to the rule in explaining their behaviour. There is, however, an apparent problem here: does the agent not need to be able to interpret the appealed-to rule to count as understanding that? And would the further rule appealed to in the second-order interpretation not also need further interpretation? How then do we avoid an infinite regress?

Appelqvist highlighted Wittgenstein's claim, in response, that "there is a way of grasping a rule which is not an interpretation" (PhilosophicaI Investigations, 201). How is it that we grasp a rule without interpreting it? She answered these questions via a detour to Kant’s First Critique, suggesting that there Kant also recognises the insufficiency of mere appeals to rules in judgment. He claims that what we need to be able to apply a general conceptual rule to a particular case is a "power of judgment", which is in Kant's sense an intuitive (as opposed to a conceptual) power. Crucially, this power shows itself not in an agent articulating or formulating some rule, but in action. Appelqvist suggested that, when utilising the power of judgment, agents exhibit a rule which cannot be conceptually formulated. Kant’s position, for Appelqvist, is a bipartite analysis of what is involved with understanding: on one side, we have the formulated conceptual rules which the agent can appeal to, and on the other the non-conceptual rules grasped by the power of judgment, exhibited in action.

Appelqvist argued these Kantian ingredients are essential to Wittgenstein’s own solution to the problem about rule-following. Her idea is that Kant’s “power of judgment” is the way of grasping a rule that is not an interpretation Wittgenstein mentions. It is this idea that Wittgenstein purportedly uses to stop the regress of interpretations. She supported this claim by examining Wittgenstein’s remarks on the understanding of a musical tune.

In Philosophical Investigations 184, Wittgenstein considers the case of suddenly recalling how to play a musical tune. The suggestion is that the criteria for the tune really being “there” in one’s mind is that one can then actually play it, either in one’s head or aloud. However certain we may feel that we know it, or however competently we can explain the relevant rules, it may turn out that we are after all unable to complete the tune upon attempt. In such cases, while the conceptual, rule-based part of understanding is present, the part based on the power of judgment is lacking. Thus, Appelqvist argued, for Wittgenstein, too, both these parts are necessary for understanding.

Appelqvist explored many of Wittgenstein’s other examples and remarks pertaining to the relationship between music, rules and understanding to support this reading. She also explored the relationship between the views of Kant and Wittgenstein on this subject and their views on aesthetics. One question raised in the discussion concerned whether, when we apply the power of judgment, we do so qua individuals or qua members of a common linguistic community with common standards. Appelqvist replied that the conceptual rule-based component of her account implies that there will always be a part of aesthetic judgment that involves reference to communal standards, but that the more subjective, power-of-judgment side leaves room for freedom to make one’s own judgment.

Fionn O’Donovan


BWS Member and PhD Philosophy Student, University of Southampton

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The British Wittgenstein Society was founded in 2007 in an effort to rekindle what seemed a waning interest in the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein. To mark the success of this endeavour, and the Society's 10th anniversary, the 2017 BWS annual conference will be devoted to celebrating Wittgenstein's contribution to thought across philosophy and other disciplines. Our guest speakers will be:

Louise Barrett (Lethbridge, Canada) on primatology

Michel Bitbol (CNRS, Paris) on philosophy of science and mathematics

Peter Hacker (Oxford) on philosophy of mind

Edward Harcourt (Oxford) on ethics and aesthetics

Richard Harper (Swansea) on communications technology

Peter Hobson (UCL) on psychology

Sandra Laugier (Sorbonne, Paris) on social philosophy

Ray Monk (Southampton) on Wittgenstein's place in 21st century thought

Paul Standish (UCL) on philosophy of education

The conference will take place at Beales Hotel, Hatfield on 29th-31st July, 2017. We look forward to your participation in making this an exceptional event – both intellectually and convivially!

Full conference registration: includes refreshments and a 2-course lunch on both days: £95 / student: £65

Conference Package 1: includes full conference registration; 30 July bed/breakfast at Beales Hotel 4* (single occupancy); conference dinner (3-course; coffee/tea; wine): £219 / student £190


Other options are available on the registration website.

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