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This is in a way a followup to the question on Wittgenstein's standard metre of Paris, which is part of his discussion on names in language.

In philosophical investigations §55, Wittgenstein says:

[A] man is surely what corresponds to his name. But he is destructible, and his name does not lose its meaning when its bearer is destroyed. -- A paradigm that is used in conjunction with a name in a language-game -- that would be an example of something which corresponds to a name and without which it would have no meaning.

Then he goes on to discuss the word "red" and its correspondence to the red color, and in §57 he says:

For what if you cannot remember the colour any more? -- If we forget which colour this is the name of, the name loses its meaning for us; that is, we’re no longer able to play a particular language-game with it. And then the situation is comparable to that in which we’ve lost a paradigm which was an instrument of our language.

First, I suppose the second quote expresses Witggenstein's opinion, rather than his imaginary interlocutor; is that correct?

Second, suppose a person becomes blind, and after a while does not remember how red looks like - we can imagine two cases, the one which Wittgenstein often goes back to is that if one can only appeal to memory, then what is the criteria of correctness? - that is, what criteria can a blind man have for the memory of red? or, alternatively we can suppose that because of some neurological damage he can bring to mind no color whatsoever. nevertheless, when such a person says to a shopkeeper, "please give me five red apples", is he being meaningless?

Can you explain?


EDIT - I see questions about Wittgenstein are not very popular; which justifies a recommendation: go read the Philosophical Investigations!

That said, here is a continuation of the original question; in §293 Wittgenstein describes the famous beetle in a box:

everyone tells me that he knows what pain is only from his own case! — Suppose that everyone had a box with something in it which we call a “beetle”. No one can ever look into anyone else’s box, and everyone says he knows what a beetle is only by looking at his beetle. — Here it would be quite possible for everyone to have something different in his box. One might even imagine such a thing constantly changing. — But what if these people’s word “beetle” had a use nonetheless? — If so, it would not be as the name of a thing. The thing in the box doesn’t belong to the language-game at all; not even as a Something: for the box might even be empty.

It seems to be in conflict with §57 which I quoted above, does it not?


EDIT 2 - Following a discussion with @Johannes it occurred to me that maybe the answer to my question is that I have originally read Wittgenstein's remark too broadly — that when he writes "If we forget which colour this is the name of, the name loses its meaning for us; that is, we’re no longer able to play a particular language-game with it.", he means that it loses some of its meaning, not all of it — it does not become meaningless — we can no longer play a particular game with it, but there are other games that we can continue to play.

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To me this is all sounds a bit esoteric because Wittgenstein is here (among other things) arguing explicitly against the strange view that in the final analysis the simples corresponding to names are indestructible. Of course he and Russell had thought something like that.

Regarding the quotes:

In §55 (the part you quote) W makes the point that even the names of people don't become meaningless when they lose their reference. He however admits that something like this can happen in cases when the meaning of a word depends on a paradigm (like a color sample) and the paradigm is destroyed. Nothing surprising here.

But of course such physical paradigms don't have to be indestructible.

In §56 the interlocutor makes the suggestion that the paradigm for a color word (for instance) might be in our minds:

"And if we bear it in mind then it comes before our mind's eye when we utter the word. So, if it is always supposed to be possible for us to remember it, it must be in itself indestructible."

Wittgenstein immediately asks, what do we regard as the criterion for remembering it right, this is of course related to the private language problematic. He also makes the point that "we do not always resort to what memory tells us as the verdict of the highest court of appeal". So memory is not infallible.

In §57 the interlocutor again tries to make his case:

"Something red can be destroyed, but red cannot be destroyed, and that is why the meaning of the word 'red' is independent of the existence of a red thing."

Is there any doubt that this is confused?? Wittgenstein answers just like in §56: "Don't clutch at the idea of our always being able to bring red before our mind's eye even when there is nothing red any more." It seems obvious that W is here doubting that if all red things were destroyed we would still be able to imagine "red". So I think it can't be that in the second quote you mention W is making something like the point that if we forget the right (whatever that means) mental image of a color, then just because of that forgetfulness the color loses its meaning (it never got its meaning that way).

So I think in your second quote W is reiterating that memory is fallible (in the sense that it's not always the highest court of appeal). In the scenario where all red things are destroyed the word "red" might lose "its meaning for us; that is, we are no longer able to play a particular language-game with it" (§57).

See also Wittgenstein's Investigations 1-133 : A Guide and Interpretation (p. 103) for a similar reading.

EDIT: I also think it is puzzling that he says in that quote "And then the situation is comparable to that in which we’ve lost a paradigm which was an instrument of our language." Because this seems to imply that a memory image is comparable to a paradigm. But isn't this is exactly what he denies earlier in §56?


Regarding the second question, Glock (Wittgenstein dictionary p. 84) says that the blind do not have the color concepts of the normally sighted. But the reason for this is not that they lack a certain private experience, it's due to the fact that they lack the abilities to fully participate in our language game. I'm not entirely satisfied with that, but something like that is would be the default Wittgensteinian answer.

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    You write "Is there any doubt that this is confused?" - not necessarily; it just sounds platonic - it resonates with how many people think, and reminds me of another subject W addresses at length - the notion that given a deterministic procedure to calculate the numbers of an infinite series, all its steps can be considered as having been already taken in some mysterious sense. – nir Dec 3 '15 at 7:58
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    I would like to offer a reading to "If we forget which colour this is the name of, the name loses its meaning for us; that is, we’re no longer able to play a particular language-game with it." — even if our memory of a color is fallible and lacks private criteria of correctness, we can nevertheless employ it in a public language game — people can then interact with us and correct our use of the name. – nir Dec 3 '15 at 8:07
  • I do not understand Glock; It is trivial that people who were born blind would have a different concept of color; but why would people who became blind? Also it is clear that there are particular language games that a blind person cannot participate in — for example answering the question "what color is that object over there" — but they can participate in some of them; for example in the game I proposed of asking a shopkeeper for five red apples; even a person who cannot recall the color red to his mind can participate in that game meaningfully, and that is the focus of my question. – nir Dec 3 '15 at 8:13
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    maybe the answer to my question is that I have originally read W's remark too broadly — when he writes "If we forget which colour this is the name of, the name loses its meaning for us; that is, we’re no longer able to play a particular language-game with it.", he means that it loses some of its meaning, not all of it — it does not become meaningless — we can no longer play a particular game with it, but there are other games that we can continue to play. – nir Dec 3 '15 at 8:21
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    thanks for your thoughtful answer - it is good commentary on W – nir Dec 3 '15 at 8:30

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