Ineffability investigations: what the later Wittgenstein has to offer to the study of ineffability

Knepper, Timothy
April 2009
International Journal for Philosophy of Religion;Apr2009, Vol. 65 Issue 2, p65
Academic Journal
While a considerable amount of effort has been expended in an attempt to understand Ludwig Wittgenstein’s enigmatic comments about silence and the mystical at the end of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, very little attention has been paid to the implications of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations for the study of ineffability. This paper first argues that, since Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations problematizes private language, emphasizes the description of actual language use, and recognizes the rule-governed nature of language, it contains significant implications for the study of ineffability, inviting investigations of the ways in which putative ineffability actually gets expressed rather than speculation about whether there are ineffable objects or experiences. It then undertakes such an investigation in the Dionysian corpus, finding therein not only grammatical techniques that express inexpressibility at the referential, illocutionary, and semiotic levels but also rules that underlie and govern these techniques. Finally, it shows how a recovery of the ordinary uses of ineffability might help dissolve the metaphysical problem of ineffability, thereby bringing ineffability back to the everyday.


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