Wittgenstein on Teaching and Learning the Rules: Taking Him at His Word

  • Tracy Bowell


In this paper, I reflect upon Wittgenstein’s descriptions of how rules are learned and taught. As background I begin with a discussion of the conceptual connection Wittgenstein makes between words’ meaning and their use or application. I extend this discussion to an account of rules as practices, habits, customs and of the way in which becoming ac-custom-ed to following those rules amounts to nothing more, and nothing less, than learning how to act correctly. Here I provide an account of what, by Wittgenstein’s lights, we are learning and being taught as we (be)come into our ways of being in the world and with others. I then move to an examination of what Wittgenstein says about teaching , learning and educating, paying particular attention to the German terms he uses to express his observations and to any nuances of difference between those terms. In this exercise of taking Wittgenstein at his word(s), I attempt to see the role that each of these types of learning and teaching might play in the process of our Bildung , the process of self-formation that constitutes our (be)coming into the ways of being in the world and with others that become second nature to us.


Wittgenstein Language Rules Teaching Learning 


  1. Ali, T. (Producer), & Jarman, D. (Director). (1993). Wittgenstein [Motion Picture]. England: BFI Production.Google Scholar
  2. Baker, G., & Hacker, P. (1985). Wittgenstein: Rules, grammar and necessity. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar
  3. Bowell, T. (2009). Filling out the picture: Wittgenstein on differences and alternatives. International Journal of Philosophical Studies, 17(2), 203–219.Google Scholar
  4. Cavell, S. (1969). Must we mean what we say? New York: Scribner.Google Scholar
  5. Cavell, S. (2006). The Wittgensteinian event. In A. Crary & S. Shieh (Eds.), Reading Cavell (pp. 8–25). New York & London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  6. Crary, A. (2000). Introduction. In A. Crary & R. Read (Eds.), The new Wittgenstein (pp. 1–18). New York & London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  7. Fanning, C., & Mir, R. (2014). Teaching tools: Progressive pedagogy and the history of construction play. In N. Garrelts (Ed.), Understanding minecraft: Essays on play, community and possibilities (pp. 38–56). Jefferson, NC: McFarland.Google Scholar
  8. Glock, H. (1996). A Wittgenstein dictionary. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar
  9. Haller, R. (2014). Questions on Wittgenstein. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  10. Kripke, S. (1982). Wittgenstein on rules and private language. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar
  11. Luntley, M. (2012). Training, training, training: The making of second nature and the roots of Wittgenstein’s pragmatism. European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy, 4(2), 88–104.Google Scholar
  12. McDowell, J. (1986). Singular thought and the extent of inner space. In J. McDowell & P. Pettit (Eds.), Subject, thought, and context (pp. 137–168). Oxford: Clarendon.Google Scholar
  13. McDowell, J. (1994). Mind and world. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  14. McDowell, J. (1998). Précis of mind and world. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 58(2), 365–368.Google Scholar
  15. Monk, R. (1991). Wittgenstein: The duty of genius. London: Vintage.Google Scholar
  16. Pears, D. (1988). The false prison (Vol. 2). Oxford: Clarendon.Google Scholar
  17. Pettit, P. (1990). The reality of rule-following. Mind, 99(393), 1–21.Google Scholar
  18. Putnam, H. (1985). The many faces of realism. LaSalle, IL: Open Court.Google Scholar
  19. Taylor, C. (1995). Philosophical arguments. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Taylor, C. (2002). Foundationalism and the inner-outer distinction. In N. H. Smith (Ed.), Reading McDowell: On mind and world (pp. 106–119). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  21. Williams, M. (1996). Exorcism and enchantment. Philosophical Quarterly, 46(182), 99–109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Williams, M. (1999). Wittgenstein, mind and meaning: Toward a social conception of mind. London & New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Wittgenstein, L. (1969). On certainty (D. Paul & G. E. M. Anscombe, Trans.). Oxford: Basil Blackwell (OC).Google Scholar
  24. Wittgenstein, L. (1976). Wittgenstein’s lectures on the foundations of mathematics (C. Diamond, Ed.). New York: Harvester Press (LFM).Google Scholar
  25. Wittgenstein, L. (1978). Remarks on the foundations of mathematics (G. H. von Wright, R. Rhees & G. E. M. Anscombe, Eds., G. E. M. Anscombe, Trans.). Oxford: Basil Blackwell (RFM).Google Scholar
  26. Wittgenstein, L. (1980). Culture and value. (G. H. von Wright, Ed., in collaboration with H. Nyman. and P. Winch, Trans.). Oxford: Basil Blackwell (CV).Google Scholar
  27. Wittgenstein, L. (1981). Zettel (2nd ed., G. E. M. Anscombe & G. H. von Wright, Eds., G. E. M. Anscombe, Trans.). Oxford: Basil Blackwell (Z).Google Scholar
  28. Wittgenstein, L. (1993). Philosophical investigations (4th ed., P. M. S. Hacker & J. Schulte, Eds., G. E. M. Anscombe, P. M. S. Hacker & Joachim Schulte, Trans.). Oxford: Basil Blackwell (PI/PPF).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.PhilosophyUniversity of WaikatoHamiltonNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations