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When one shows someone the king in chess and says “This is the king”, one does not thereby explain to him the use of this piece a unless he already knows the rules of the game except for this last point: the shape of the king. One can imagine his having learnt the rules of the game without ever having been shown an actual piece. The shape of the chess piece corresponds here to the sound or shape of a word. However, one can also imagine someone’s having learnt the game without ever learning or formulating rules. He might have learnt quite simple board-games first, by watching, and have progressed to more and more complicated ones. He too might be given the explanation “This is the king” a if, for instance, he were being shown chess pieces of a shape unfamiliar to him. This explanation again informs him of the use of the piece only because, as we might say, the place for it was already prepared. In other words, we’ll say that it informs him of the use only if the place is already prepared. And in that case it is so, not because the person to whom we give the explanation already knows rules, but because, in another sense, he has already mastered a game. Consider this further case: I am explaining chess to someone; and I begin by pointing to a chess piece and saying “This is the king; it can move in this-and-this way”, and so on. a In this case we shall say: the words “This is the king” (or “This is called ‘the king’”) are an explanation of a word only if the learner already ‘knows what a piece in a game is’. That is, if, for example, he has already played other games, or has watched ‘with understanding’ how other people play a and similar things. Only then will he, while learning the game, be able to ask relevantly, “What is this called?” a that is, this chess piece. We may say: it only makes sense for someone to ask what something is called if he already knows how to make use of the name. We can, after all, imagine the person who is asked replying: “Decide what to call it yourself” -- and now the one who asked would himself be answerable for everything.

Wittgenstein, Philosophical investigations, part 1, paragraph 31.

Does he consider here the naming of the pieces as a part of the rules, or not? Explain your answer, please.

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    is this meant to show that Wittgenstein is uninteresting? ha, he can be pretty
    – andrós
    Commented Apr 12 at 16:45
  • the way this question is asked makes it seem like a homework question. though finally someone asking about wittgenstein - he should appear in this website much more often I think.
    – nir
    Commented Apr 12 at 17:39
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    and btw, it is clearly the case that the name is not part of the rules - simple text comprehension.
    – nir
    Commented Apr 12 at 17:42
  • AlphaZero can beat all human players but can't express names.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Apr 12 at 21:03

2 Answers 2

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Clearly, he thinks we can learn the rules of chess without knowing the names of the pieces

while learning the game, be able to ask relevantly, “What is this called?” a that is, this chess piece. We may say: it only makes sense for someone to ask what something is called if he already knows how to make use of the name

The shape of the piece that is the king is part of the rules of the game, it seems

he already knows the rules of the game except for this last point: the shape of the king.

Emphasis added.

But I think there is no direct answer to your question in the quote.

Yes, if "the shape of the king" is a rule that includes its name "king".

if he already knows how to make use of the name... “Decide what to call it yourself”

No, if you can completely make use of the name, learn or use every rule involving it, despite not knowing the name.

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We may say: it only makes sense for someone to ask what something is called if he already knows how to make use of the name.

This appears to be the main point of Wittgenstein's passage, and it is wrong. It is useful to know the name of something even if you don't yet know how to make use of the name, because you may later learn how to make use of the name.

You need a bundle of knowledge to play chess, or any other game. The order you acquire the parts of the bundle doesn't matter too much. The names of things are part of the bundle, and the way things work are another part of the bundle.

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  • i think it's odd to imagine someone playing chess without having "learning" the rules, and i find that section baffling really
    – andrós
    Commented Apr 12 at 17:11
  • I do not think so. The point is that you can learn how to play chess only on paper and thus you know that there is a piece with a specific function without ever having the physical piece in your hand. Commented Apr 12 at 17:27
  • But why (or even how) would I ask what something is called if I dont already know how to use it's name? For example, if I ask "What is that?" I've already demonstrated that if you give "that" a name, I would know how to use the name because I've already identified it as something I want to know the name of. I dont see how you would ask the question without having something to refer to once you know the name, which would be knowledge of how to use the name.
    – JMac
    Commented Apr 12 at 17:43
  • @JMac That's a very low bar for "already knowing how to make use of the name." It would make Wittgenstein's claim vacuous, because everybody has some idea of how to make use of any name, even if a very vague one (like "asking someone else what they can tell you about the name," which you can do for any name, regardless of your level of understanding of the name).
    – causative
    Commented Apr 12 at 17:59
  • that is not a move in chess @causative
    – andrós
    Commented Apr 12 at 20:24

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