Human Studies

, Volume 37, Issue 3, pp 351–367 | Cite as

Giving Expression to Rules: Grammar as an Activity in Later Wittgenstein

  • Radek OcelákEmail author
Theoretical / Philosophical Paper


The paper explores Wittgenstein’s notion of grammar in the sense of a discipline or an activity, as opposed to the object sense of the term (grammar as a body of rules for the use of a language). I argue that the Wittgensteinian activity of grammar consists in giving expression to rules of our language use. It differs from the traditional grammarian’s activity not only in focusing on a different type of rules, but also in that it does not aim at an explicit and exhaustive treatment of a specific domain of language. Instead, Wittgenstein conceives its goal as therapeutic: the dissolution of particular philosophical problems. Further, I attempt to reconcile his seemingly contradictory remarks on the character of grammatical statements, defining the senses in which they respectively can, and cannot, be considered descriptive assertions. I confront G. P. Baker’s and P. M. S. Hacker’s conceptions of the Wittgensteinian grammatical activity and I argue in favour of the former. Finally, I critically examine N. Garver’s claim that Wittgenstein, in his later conception of philosophy as grammar, succeeded in formulating a successfully self-referential criterion of philosophical critique. I also argue that grammatical activity, despite Wittgenstein’s overt commitment, is in fact not the only method of his later philosophy.


Wittgenstein Grammar Rules Descriptiveness Critique 



I owe thanks to Martin Stokhof and to two anonymous reviewers, who all provided valuable comments on this paper. All mistakes and omissions are solely my responsibility. I am also grateful to the Dutch Nuffic for their support of my past studies in the Netherlands. Work on this paper was supported by the Research Grant No. 13-21076S of the Czech Science Foundation


  1. BT (Big Typescript) = Wittgenstein, L. (2002). “The big typescript”. Wiener Ausgabe, Band 11. Michael Nedo (Ed.). Frankfurt am Main: Zweitausendeins.Google Scholar
  2. PG (Philosophical Grammar) = Wittgenstein, L. (1984). Philosophische Grammatik. Werkausgabe Band 4. Rush Rhees (Ed.). Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.Google Scholar
  3. PI (Philosophical Investigations) = Wittgenstein, L. (1999). Philosophische Untersuchungen. Werkausgabe Band 1: Tractatus logico-philosophicus; Tagebücher 1914–1916; Philosophische Untersuchungen. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.Google Scholar
  4. OC (On Certainty) = Wittgenstein, L. (1970). Über Gewissheit. G. E. M. Anscombe und G. H. von Wright (Eds.). Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.Google Scholar
  5. TLP (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus). Wittgenstein, L. (1999). Tractatus logico-philosophicus. Werkausgabe Band 1: Tractatus logico-philosophicus; Tagebücher 1914–1916; Philosophische Untersuchungen. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.Google Scholar
  6. Baker, G. P. (2001). Wittgenstein’s ‘depth grammar’. Language and Communication, 21, 303–319.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Baker, G. P., & Hacker, P. M. S. (1985). An analytical commentary on the Philosophical Investigations, vol. 2: Rules, grammar and necessity. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar
  8. Brandom, R. (1998). Making it explicit. Reasoning, representing and discursive commitment. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Bennett, M. R., & Hacker, P. M. S. (2003). Philosophical foundations of neuroscience. Malden, MA: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  10. Carnap, R. (1931). Überwindung der Metaphysik durch logische Analyse der Sprache. Erkenntniss, 2(1), 219–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Forster, M. N. (2004). Wittgenstein on the arbitrariness of grammar. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Garver, N. (1996). Philosophy as grammar. In H. D. Sluga & D. G. Stern (Eds.), The Cambridge companion to Wittgenstein (pp. 139–170). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hacker, P. M. S. (2012). Wittgenstein on grammar, theses and dogmatism. Philosophical Investigations, 35(1), 1–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hagberg, G. (2003). On philosophy as therapy: Wittgenstein, Cavell, and autobiographical writing. Philosophy and Literature, 27, 196–210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kambartel, F., & Stekeler-Weithofer, P. (2005). Sprachphilosophie. Probleme und Methoden. Stuttgart: Reclam.Google Scholar
  16. Kuusela, O. (2006). Do the concepts of grammar and use in Wittgenstein articulate a theory of language or meaning? Philosophical Investigations, 29(4), 309–341.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. McGinn, M. (2001). Grammar in the Philosophical Investigations. In O. Kuusela & M. McGinn (Eds.), The Oxford handbook to Wittgenstein (pp. 646–666). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Moyal-Sharrock, D. (2004). Understanding Wittgenstein’s On Certainty. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Mulhall, S. (2007). Wittgenstein’s private language: Grammar, nonsense and imagination in Philosophical Investigations, §§243-315. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  20. O’Neill, M. (2001). Explaining ‘The Hardness of the Logical Must’: Wittgenstein on grammar, arbitrariness and logical necessity. Philosophical Investigations, 24(1), 1–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Rorty, R. (1979). Philosophy and the mirror of nature. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Philosophy (Department of Logic)Academy of Sciences of the Czech RepublicPragueCzech Republic

Personalised recommendations