Philosopher friend Dan Kaufman surely would or will disagree if or when he sees this, but I shall explain that header.
On Ludwig Wittgenstein, he does have a lot of insight, but, I don’t ennoble him like Dan does. (Dan might object a bit to the word "ennoble," but ... I'll stand by its sentiment.)
In part, that’s because one can go “meta” on Wittgenstein’s language games idea. I think Walter Kaufmann, with his somewhat contrarian rejection of “guilt” and “justice” as universals or quasi-universals kind of gets at that.
But, there are other issues. And, expanding on a comment I left on a post at Massimo Pigliucci's blog, here are a few of them.
1. Are we talking about descriptive or prescriptive use of a particular word, or words in general?
2. Can we even agree on what “prescriptive” and “descriptive” mean, either in general or with a particular word?
3. How do we make such judgments?
These are just a few of many ideas related to this issue.
In short, Wittgenstein’s idea on language games, in the real world, must be run through …
Wait for it, those of you know one of my favorite philosophers …
Wittgenstein must in some way be run through Ye Olde Philter of Induction, courtesy David Hume.
Let’s start with the word “game.”
“Game” is not a Platonic Idea, or even close to it. It’s not, per what I said about Kaufmann (two n’s, the professional interpreter of Nietzsche), even a quasi-universal, if you agree with him. And, since I do on “guilt” and “justice,” I certainly do on “game.”
Rather, we learn the idea of “game” from playing actual individual games. No matter how much of a desire for at least physical play is inborn, the idea of games, rather than unstructured play, is not at all a universal.
We then learn about particular subconcepts associated with games. Straight to Wittgenstein, these include rule making for games, rule agreement for games, and more.
Actually, it’s a combination of rote-type learning and social or associational learning, or discovery, or concept crafting.
I can illustrate this with a word better than, but somewhat related to “game.”
Let’s talk about “sport,” and real issues kicked around by American sports fans.
Is golf a “game,” or is it just a “competition”?
If golf is a “game,” what about billiards? What about chess? Per many Olympics watchers, what about synchronized swimming? My particular answers as a sports fan are yes, maybe and no. But, I know I have no rational way of defending them. And, if I pressed Wittgenstein, were he alive and talking to me, he probably wouldn’t either. He’d probably, at some point, in fact, show his Continental philosophical roots, and look for a picture of Hume, or one of his books, to destroy with a fireplace poker.
This is why Wittgenstein on language is not a Rand McNally atlas. Rather, he’s more like a Mercator map. Not a Mercator projection, but an actual Mercator map, by Mercator himself, which shows but rough outlines for much of the world.
Beyond that, after the idea of Noam Chomsky, Steve Pinker and others about massive brain modularity showed itself to not be totally true, which in turn led to some degree of questioning of ideas like Chomsky’s deep grammar and deep semantic structures, we have other reasons for saying that Wittgenstein’s “A Game with Words” needs to be run through an empiricist, induction-based filter.