Philosophical Inquiry

Volume 19, Issue 3/4, Summer/Fall 1997

R.M. Seltzer
Pages 13-26

Wittgenstein on "Universal Meanings"

This paper is an attempt to offer a Wittgensteinian critique of Platonic universals, abstract objects which Plato took to be (1) the essential elements of particulars, and (2) the meanings of general words. I will first offer an interpretation of Plato from the dmlogucs Republic, Phaedo, and Theaetetus, and then identify specific assumptions contained within this metaphysical doctrine which concern, first, the concepts of meaning and understanding; and, second, the claim of essentialism for particulars. I will then discuss criticisms of this view from a Wittgensteinian perspective. The concepts of "surface grammar" and "depth grammar" in the Investigations will be discussed, and I will then apply these concepts to the Theory of Forms to offer a second critique from this perspective.