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Describe and explain Wittgenstein's language games theory
Ludwig Wittgenstein first proposed the ideas in his writing `Tractus' in 1921, that
language is primarily a tool used to picture the world in which we live. Each word is like a
picture of something, and so meaning in language is based on the objects that words refer
to. Wittgenstein claimed that a literal approach to language was too limiting, and that
language is defined by the functions it performs.
Wittgenstein did not necessarily focus on the meaningfulness of language but instead
the way that language is used. Wittgenstein proposed the concept of language games.
When using different types of language in different situations, then different rules have to
be applied. Learning to use a language we are not familiar with requires learning these
rules, for example this may be learning the grammar of a foreign language. A working
knowledge of each of the rules is needed to be able to use and understand the language
correctly. This is similar to learning the rules for a different game. Games have nothing
particular in common except their purpose entertainment and the fact that they have
rules. Languages have nothing in common except their purpose to picture the world we
live in and the fact that they have rules.
Due to this, language cannot exist on its own and be isolated; it is necessarily and
intrinsically linked to the conventions of society. It is a community activity and cannot be
`played' by one person alone. Every form of language is a `game' and therefore religious
language is a type of language game. There are rules that apply but these may be unclear
or unintelligible to outsiders who do not know the rules of the game. However this is not
to say that a non-believer will not understand any of the rules of religious language as
there are some similarities between language games.
Language games reflect the fact that language is a human activity, and so to assess the
meaning of a language game such as religious language, you must look at the activity to
which it refers. Inappropriate language break the rules of the language game, so the use of
some words in religion is inappropriate according to the language game. As we are aware of
the fact that religion is a language game, this helps when understanding statements of faith.
Some philosophers have argued that language games may not be accessible to all and
may in fact become exclusive. Language itself however cannot be used exclusively by a
group but is a community property. But this argument may be rejected when considering