WAB: "Fragments" | The following contribution is an excerpt from Antonia Soulez: "A case of early Wittgensteinian dialogism: Stances on the impossibility of “Red and green in the same place”", in: Alois Pichler and Simo Säätelä (eds.): Wittgenstein: The philosopher and his works, Working Papers from the Wittgenstein Archives at the University of Bergen no. 17, Wittgenstein Archives at the University of Bergen (WAB) 2005, pp. 313-325. Publication on WAB's website with kind permission from the author and the editors (2005.3.10).

Antonia Soulez: A case of early Wittgensteinian dialogism: Stances on the impossibility of “Red and green in the same place”

Three (four) voices

The various voices in “Red and green at the same place” are: an empiricist voice à la Mill, a phenomenologist voice à la Husserl, a grammatical voice à la Schlick, and an additional, different grammatical voice, which contrasts with the Schlickian voice.

First stance: the empiricist standpoint à la Mill (or how the experience accords with the perception of colours): “We” ask whether the empiricist could indicate to us what one would see if such a proposition (and likewise its negation) were false. His response would be that he is indeed able to see it, yet it is beyond the reach of explanation. “We” reply that it is a grammatical rule. “We” is the instance that “abrogates the rule” (see VOW p. 401).

Second stance: what a Schlickian tells “us” (or the ostensive-grammatical position as a way of contradicting us): But a grammarian could object – and this is Schlick’s ostensive standpoint – that the logical impossibility derives from the meanings of words. Schlick is therefore that other who would say that “an ostensive definition fixes the meaning of the explained word” and thus the grammatical rules governing it (VOW p. 403). To this “contradicting” grammarian, “we” respond by pointing out that the rule does not follow from the explained meaning. “We” thereby dissociate ourselves from such a grammatical path. Thus, the grammarian who stands in opposition to both the Millian and the Husserlian does not coincide with the ostensive grammarian à la Schlick. There are in effect two distinct grammatical paths, and it is that of Schlick to which a notion of the ostensive use of concepts corresponds. Yet, it is not in virtue of an ostensive definition that red and green exclude each other; it is the role of a different grammatical voice and objection to elicit another way to treat the collision.

The “we ourselves” is now kept distinct from the “we” that, according to my reading, designates the former contradicting grammarian, e.g. Schlick (Dictées, vol. 1, p. 204; VOW p. 407). “We” reply – object – that the rule does not follow from the explained meaning (a Schlickian view). The distinction is corroborated by the passage in which “we” reply to the Schlickian, who thinks that ostensive definition is a ground for the incompatibility between red and green since the occurrence of a mental image cannot be equated with the meaning of words (Dictées, vol. 1, p. 202; VOW p. 403). An adept of a Schlickian conception of grammar reveals himself as endorsing a kind of instant-solipsism. So here the target of the argument has become a solipsistic construal of instantaneity, “Whenever I speak or hear the word ‘red’ I actually imagine something red” (VOW p. 403), the very idea of intentional directedness, a certain way of conceiving comparison (a word gets compared with an “object”), or again a private grasp whose validity holds only for an instant, hence cannot be shared.

The criticism of ostensive definition includes a criticism of a causal conception of meaning, which is also the target in other dictations. This conception is deterministic: anyone who is given the ostensive definition thereby seems not only to have acquired this definition, “but also something else, in fact the sense that stands behind the word”. Thus “it seems that the understanding of the word ‘red’ contains in embryo everything which is later as it were spread out in front of us in the form of rules of grammar” (Dictées, vol. 1, p. 201; VOW p. 403) (the myth of logical possibility).

Third stance: another grammatical path, “our” path (by contrast with the Schlickian one): The question arises whether this third stance amounts to a “view”. It can be equated with the negation of the Schlickian thesis. In other words, the point is that it is not in virtue of an ostensive definition that red and green exclude each other. Note that the distinction between the second and the third stances parallels the duplicating of the meaning of “grammar”, revealing some uneasiness of the philosopher as confronted with the embarrassing case of “the rose is identical to red”.1 A parting of ways takes place within the philosopher. He is inhabited by two conflicting grammatical rules. This parting of ways expresses an alternative between two ways of seeing. It induces in the philosopher a feeling of irresolution, fostered by a feeling of the absence of rules (Dictées, vol. 1, p. 117; VOW p. 231).

Fourth stance: Husserl’s stance (or the charge of the phenomenologist according to which we are trapped into arbitrariness): This stance (which is subjected to criticism in a passage entitled “Anti-Husserl” in Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle),2 expresses the move to the idea of the a priori and essential nature of the “cannot” in “Red and green cannot be in the same place at the same time”. Wittgenstein and Schlick both challenge the idea of a phenomenal a priori, based as it is on the assumption of (what Elisabeth Rigal has called) a “logicity of experience”.3 What is here dismissed is the idea of any “third path” between the logical and the phenomenal. Such a third path is postulated by the claim that there exists a specific intuition whose object is a third kind of entity, distinct both from the purely phenomenal and the purely logical. According to Husserl, in effect, the opposition between the two may well be overcome. The content intentionally aimed at has objectivity in virtue of “the law-governed nature of the being-so” (eine Gesetzmässigkeit des Soseins) by which it is structured.4

Husserl thus postulates a “discerning” (a “savoir-voir”, as Jocelyn Benoist puts it),5 which is sustained by laws of pure essence. One may invoke an experience-of-it-not-being-able-to-be-otherwise. Its ideal necessity has a unity which is just what underlies the intuitive conflict between two incompatible things, and which solves at a deep level what amounts to a mere dilemma at the superficial level. What has been mistaken for an arbitrary act of stipulation effectuated by the logician proves to be grounded, in fact, upon the very “nature” of colours, so to speak the colour in itself, a nature which no stipulation could ever undermine.




1See dictation “The Justification of Grammar”, Dictées, vol. 1, pp. 118–119; VOW pp. 232–237.
2Conversation dated 1929, Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle: Conversations recorded by Fr. Waismann, ed. B. McGuinness, Oxford, Blackwell 1979.
3See her postscript to L. Wittgenstein, Remarques sur les couleurs (Mauvezin, Trans-Europ-Repress, 1983). We have challenged this reading in the paper of ours mentioned above (footnote 9), arguing that there is no such thing as a “logicity of experience” except from a phenomenological standpoint which is criticized by Schlick (especially in the section “Anti-Husserl”) in the name of Wittgenstein.
4E. Husserl, Logical Investigations, 3rd and 6th investigations.
5J. Benoist, “‘Il n’y a pas de phénoménologie, mais il y a bel et bien des problèmes phénoménologiques’ (Remarques sur les couleurs, III, § 248)”, Rue Descartes (revue du Collège international de philosophie), No 29, 2000.



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