Wittgenstein Reading Group


The Wittgenstein Reading Group is a loosely organized reading group that attempts to convene twice a month to read some paragraphs of Ludwig Wittgenstein's Philosophische Untersuchungen.

During the hour long meetings, we first read out loud a paragraph in German; then we read out loud the English translation of this paragraph; and finally we have an open discussion about the paragraph just read. Preparation for these meetings is not necessary (although everyone is free to read and discuss relevant primary or secondary material).


The dates and times for the Wittgenstein Reading group meetings are determined per period, in a way to maximize the number of attendees at each meeting.

Currently, we have scheduled the meetings for the third period1 at the following times, dates and locations.

  • 9 February; from 12:00 to 13:00; at Drift 15, room 0.03
  • 23 February; from 12:00 to 13:00; at Drift 15, room 0.03
  • 2 March; from 12:00 to 13:00; at Drift 15, room 0.03
  • 16 March; from 12:00 to 13:00; at Drift 15, room 0.03
  • 6 April; from 12:00 to 13:00; at Drift 15, room 0.03
  • 20 April; from 12:00 to 13:00; at Drift 15, room 0.03
Scheduling for the fourth period has begun! If you want to join the Wittgenstein Reading Group in the fourth period2, please send the times and the days of the week at which you are available toemail2.png, or reply to the relevant post at the forum.

Further information

One day before every meeting of the Wittgenstein Reading Group, a reminder will be send to the ‘staffphil’ and ‘studphil’ mailing lists, as well as to the mailing list dedicated to the Wittgenstein Reading Group: ‘ludwig’. You can (un)subscribe from the ‘ludwig’ list here: https://list.hum.uu.nl/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/ludwig.

Also, if you can't get enough of the Philosophical Investigations, you can continue discussing Wittgenstein at the forum.

A short story on structure

Since the Wittgenstein Reading Group is only loosely organized, and since there might be many weeks in between your subsequent discussions of the Untersuchungen, it might be useful to have an overview of the structure of Wittgenstein's Investigations. However, given the nature of the work and the amount of philosophical literature it generated, there might be divergence on what exactly the structure of the Philosophical Investigations is. So this is a disclaimer: the following is a story about the structure of the Untersuchungen. It comes from Brendan Wilson's Wittgenstein's Philosophcal Investigations — A Guide.3

According to Wilson, the Untersuchungen consists of four phases.

“Phase 1 [§1-137] attacks the errors of perspective that led to Logical Atomism - its neglect of the diversity of real language, its fascination with a certain concept of simplicity, and its exaggeration of the precision of language” (122).

“Phase 2 [§138-242] begins to investigate the role of the mental in understanding language” (122). Here, Wittgenstein “concedes that the agent's performances may be accompanied by mental imagery or other inner workings, but insists that these are neither necessary nor sufficient for it to be true that the agent's performance derives form his or her understanding” (122). Rather, what is necessary is “a custom or practice of related performances” (122).

“Phase 3 [§243-307] shifts the focus from understanding to meaning” (122). This is where we find the private language argument. According to Wilson, the real point of this argument “is that the idea of a private language distorts our ordinary concept of inner workings beyond recognition” (122).

“Phase 4 [§308-693] sets out the extent of this distortion, by bring out departures from the inner/outer analogy as that analogy occurs in ordinary language” (123). According to Wilson, “[t]he end result is that our ordinary concept of inner workings cannot be made to do service in a theory of understanding or meaning” (123).

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