Wittgenstein and Moore’s Paradox

Marie McGinn


Wittgenstein describes the kind of investigation he is engaged in in the Philosophical Investigations as ‘a grammatical one’ (PI §90). He speaks of looking for ‘grammatical differences’ (PI II,185) and of ‘the rules of grammar’ (PI §497); and he makes a distinction between the ‘surface grammar’ of a word and its ‘depth grammar’ (PI §664). He traces the misunderstandings which he holds to lie at the root of philosophical problems and paradoxes to ‘grammatical illusions’ (PI §110), and to the creation of ‘grammatical fictions’ (PI §307). Understanding what he means by the terms ‘grammar’, ‘depth grammar’ and ‘grammatical investigation’ is therefore fundamental to an understanding of the Investigations. In this paper, I consider two contrasting interpretations of Wittgenstein’s conception of grammar. One developed by Peter Hacker, which places the emphasis on the clear arrangement of rules for the use of words and on transgressions of the bounds of sense; the other, defended, for example, by Gordon Baker, which sees Wittgenstein’s conception of grammar as focusing on a dimension of use that is not captured in the notion of rules for the construction of well-formed sentences and which emphasises the resolution of philosophical problems and paradoxes. I try to see what difference, if any, each of these interpretations has for how we understand Wittgenstein’s investigation of the concepts of meaning, understanding and thinking.


20th century philosophy; philosophy; Wittgenstein Ludwig; language; logic; Moore's paradox; psychology; Philosophical Investigations; truth

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