Language-game versus Conversation – Wittgenstein and Rhees

Rush Rhees, who is known as Wittgenstein's student and an editor of his works, was also a significant philosopher in his own right. A large part of his work, much of which was published posthumously, was devoted to a critical discussion of Wittgenstein's philosophy. Central to this was his criticism of Wittgenstein's use of the notion of a language game. Rhees thought that the builder's game of Philosophical Investigations § 2 could not be regarded as a language. He also emphasized that language could not be thought of as a range of language games. This misses out on the unity language has, which is best understood along the lines of the unity of conversation. Furthermore, in a conversation there is a deepening of understanding, for which there is no room in a game. It is suggested that this is connected with the idea that conversations may have more or less depth; the shallower a piece of conversation the more game-like it is. In Wittgenstein's thought there was no room for speaking of the worth of a conversation. Rhees described the ultimate concern of philosophy as attaining clarity about such notions as the growth of understanding or the possibility of discourse, and he considered the great question of philosophy to be, "What is language?" In his concern with these concepts, his thinking differed from that of Wittgenstein, who would have shunned any attempt to formulate the aims of philosophy in general terms.

Keywords: conversation, language-game, Rhees, sense, understanding, Wittgenstein