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Wittgenstein

 
 
Lewis33
 
Reply Fri 20 May, 2011 01:49 pm
I thought I would start a thread that gives a little historical background to Wittgenstein, and at the same time give some of my thoughts on at least two of his works. I will begin by giving a short overview of the Tractatus, and end by giving some of my thoughts on his final work called On Certainty.

One of the reasons I am doing this is to get feedback, so thoughts and criticisms are welcome.

Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (1889-1951)

I am going to use K. T. Fann's book Wittgenstein's Conception of Philosophy as a guide, because I think it is one of the best summaries written on Wittgenstein's philosophy. If you want to study Wittgenstein I would suggest getting Fann's book. You can get it on Alibris (used) for just a few dollars.

Second, I think it is important to understand the background to Wittgenstein's works or notes in order to better understand his thinking. I am not going to be able to give those of you who are interested a complete background of what was going on in philosophy at the time, vis-a-vis Bertrand Russell, A. N. Whitehead, and Gottlob Frege. I will only give you bits and pieces, and hopefully this will inspire you to do your own thinking, and come to your own conclusions about the nature of Wittgenstein's work; and not only the nature of his work, but to come to understand how his thinking should influence the way we think about language, and in particular - propositions.

As much as I enjoy Wittgenstein's philosophy and thinking about what he said concerning the nature of the proposition, it is important to understand that no philosopher no matter how brilliant should be accepted without thinking through his or her material. Hence, we have to be careful about getting tunnel vision, and we have to be careful about being to dogmatic about a certain philosopher, philosophy, or theory.

I have come to the conclusion after reading several biographies and studying Wittgenstein on my own, that in the 20th century Wittgenstein is to philosophy what Einstein is to physics; and just as a physicist would not neglect Einstein's theories, I think philosophers should also not neglect the study of Wittgenstein's methods. His works are some of the most original in all of philosophy.

Wittgenstein was born in Vienna, and he was the youngest of eight children. He came from a very rich industrialist family. His father was a leading figure in the iron and steel industry throughout the region. Both of Wittgenstein's parents were highly musical and cultured. In fact, Brahm's and other musicians would come to the Wittgenstein home and play their music.

Wittgenstein was educated at home until the age of 14, when his parents decided to send the young Wittgenstein to Linz to prepare him in mathematics and the physical sciences. It seems that the young Wittgenstein wanted to study with the physicist Boltzmann, however, Boltzmann died in 1906.

After being educated in Linz for three years, the young Wittgenstein went to Berlin to study mechanical engineering at the Technische Hochscule at Charlottenburg. After two years in Berlin, he then went to England where he became a research student of engineering at the University of Manchester. During this time he engaged in aeronautical research, and went from experimenting with kites to the construction of a jet reaction propeller for aircraft. The design of the propeller was a mathematical endeavor which eventually led the young Wittgenstein into pure mathematics, and then, to the foundation of mathematics (Ludwig Wittgenstein by Norman Malcolm, p.4,5). Apparently his interest in the foundation of mathematics led him to Russell and Whitehead's work called the Principles of Mathematics; and it also led him to the works of Gottlob Frege. Gottlob Frege was another philosopher/mathematician doing work in mathematical logic. So it was through Russell, Whitehead, and Frege's works that Wittgenstein entered into the study of philosophy.

According to G. H. Von Wright, Wittgenstein had read Schopenhauer's Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, and this brought him face-to-face with Schopenhauer's idealism. Later Wittgenstein apparently abandoned his Schopenharuerian idealistic views in favor of Frege's conceptual realism; and it seems that after a talk with Frege, Wittgenstein decided to go to Cambridge and study philosophy under Bertrand Russell (G. H. Von Wright, A Biographical Sketch, p. 6).

It is important to understand that his later works, The Philosophical Investigations and On Certainty, must be seen in the light of his former work - the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Therefore, I will begin by briefly outlining the Tractatus before I move on to interpret parts of On Certainty.
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Lewis33
 
  0  
Reply Fri 20 May, 2011 04:02 pm
Part 2

The Tractatus is one of the most difficult works of philosophy to understand, and it is because of this that many of the interpretations of the Tractatus have been deficient. Even Russell and Frege misinterpreted the Tractatus according to Wittgenstein.

In the preface to the Tractatus Wittgenstein tells us what the aim of the Tractatus is:

Quote:
This book deals with the problems of philosophy, and shows, I believe, that the reason why these problems are posed is that the logic of our language is misunderstood. The whole sense of the book might be summed up in the following words: what can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence.

Thus the aim of the book is to draw a limit to thought, or rather--not to thought, but to the expression of thoughts: for in order to be able to draw a limit to thought, we should have to find both sides of the limit thinkable (i.e. we should have to be able to think what cannot be thought).

It will therefore only be in language that the limit can be drawn, and what lies on the other side of the limit will simply be nonsense (Tractatus p. 3).


Keep in mind that even in the Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein is still thinking in terms of the logic of language; however, his method is different. The Tractatus is an a priori investigation of language, and the Philosophical Investigations is more of an a posteriori or pragmatic approach to language. My personal belief is that both works have something important to say.

The a priori approach in the Tractatus is due to Wittgenstein's belief that the structure of language is revealed by logic (PI 107). Also Wittgenstein believed that the function of language is essentially to describe the world. The three main issues of the Tractatus are logic, language, and the world. And this is clearly pointed out in Wittgenstein's picture theory of language, which is directly related to his theory of truth-functions.

Quote:
These two theories are designed to answer the questions: 'What is the function of language?' and 'What is the structure of language?' Since language is conceived as 'the totality of propositions' (T. 4.001), the two questions are transformed into the following: 'How are propositions related to the world?' and 'How are propositions related to one another?' This is why Wittgenstein wrote in his Notebook, 'My whole task consists in explaining the nature of the proposition' (Nb p. 39). Wittgenstein assumes that if we can use language to talk about the world there must be some propositions directly connected with the world, so that their truth or falsity are not determined by other propositions but by the world: these he called 'elementary propositions' (K. T. Fann, p. 8).

fresco
 
  1  
Reply Fri 20 May, 2011 05:05 pm
@Lewis33,
Beware exposition ! Wink

The significance of Wittgenstein is seen by several writers with respect to the debunking of so-called "analytic philosophy". From that perspective, his adages "meaning is use" and "language on holiday" are the ripostes I tend to use for the formalists who tie themselves in knots about "truth", "free will" etc,
Lewis33
 
  1  
Reply Fri 20 May, 2011 06:10 pm
@fresco,
I don't believe he debunked analytic philosophy, but I can understand why some might think so. I think he just provided us with a new tool to work with, i.e., a method of analyzing language.
fresco
 
  1  
Reply Sat 21 May, 2011 12:35 am
@Lewis33,
Wittgenstein, Quine and Davis are all cited by Rorty as nails in the coffin of "philosophy" as an "academic discipline". Indeed, the post-modernist movement directly arose from such rumblings which are well illustrated by the celebrated Cambridge dispute over the "professionalism" of Derrida.

It seems to me that we are left with "analytical philosophy" licking its wounds on the sidelines of physics and the biological sciences. That is not to say that "science" can be defined outside the realm of pragmatism, but that pragmatism per se is an essential component of what we call a "satisfactory" account. I note for example that "philosophical linguistics" appears to have retreated to pseudo-biological areas like the "embodiment" of Lakoff and Johnson, or the "mutual coupling" of Maturana, which are a far cry from the hopes of the logical positivists targetted by the Tractatus.
0 Replies
 
Lewis33
 
  2  
Reply Sat 21 May, 2011 12:47 am
@Lewis33,
Part 3

Elementary propositions are the constituent parts of complex or ordinary propositions. That is to say, ordinary propositions can be analyzed into more basic kinds of propositions, which can be further analyzed into the most fundamental parts, until no further analysis is possible. Once we reach the point where no further analysis is possible, then we have what Wittgenstein calls the elementary proposition. The elementary proposition puts us into direct contact with the world because they are logical pictures of atomic facts. Atomic facts are the smallest constituent parts of more complex facts. We are in direct contact with the world, because the smallest analyzable proposition, the elementary proposition, puts us in contact with the smallest analyzable fact - the atomic fact (facts exist in the world).

An elementary proposition is the simplest kind of proposition, and it is made up of names (T 4.22). What is a name? "A name cannot be dissected any further by means of a definition: it is a primitive sign (T 3.26)." Names refer to objects in the world, and objects are simple (T 3.203, 2.02). While it is true that elementary propositions are the simplest kind of proposition, they can be analyzed or broken into smaller parts; however, these parts are no longer called propositions, they are called names. Hence, a complete analysis of a proposition is the following: Complex proposition -------> elementary proposition -------> and finally, names.

Nowhere does Wittgenstein come up with an example of an elementary proposition or name. According to Norman Malcolm, when he asked Wittgenstein about this, Wittgenstein said that it was not his job as a logician to decide whether this thing or that was a simple or complex thing. His thinking was that this was an empirical matter and it was not up to him. However, to be fair Wittgenstein understood the problem and makes reference to it in the Notebooks on page 68 (Fann, p. 12).

So what we have then is the following: Complex propositions can be analyzed into the most basic kind of proposition - called elementary propositions. Elementary propositions are made up of simple terms called names. He concludes that names must refer to objects in the world, that is, the object is its referent. If the referent does not exist, then the proposition is senseless.

The idea that names must refer to objects is a view that goes all the way back to Augustine, and this is the view of Wittgenstein in the Tractatus; and it's this view that he criticizes in the Philosophical Investigations. However, remember that language in part does name objects, but it does more than just name objects - much more. This can be seen (the naming of objects) in the primitive language-game that Wittgenstein describes in paragraph 2 of the Investigations. Moreover, we observe the use of ostensive definitions when we teach a child the use of words like pencil, cow, car, cat, etc. Therefore, we want to be careful in making the claim that language does not use the ostensive definition model - it does, or that Wittgenstein completely abandons this idea, he doesn't. It is just that this view (the view that language names objects) is a very narrow description of language.

So what we have then is the following: Complex propositions can be analyzed into the most basic kind of propositions - called elementary propositions. Elementary propositions are made up of simple terms called names. He concludes that names must refer to objects in the world, that is, the object is its referent. If the referent does not exist, then the proposition is senseless. One question that naturally arises from Wittgenstein's thinking is the following: we often make reference to things that do not exist, and yet we understand the sense of the proposition - how is this possible? After all we refer to Hobbits, witches, little green monsters, and yet they do not exist. We understand because we understand the concepts - not because they point to some object; and we understand because propositions present a picture, and these pictures either mirror reality or they do not.
fresco
 
  1  
Reply Sat 21 May, 2011 01:09 am
@Lewis33,
Laughing
Nobody is going to read that.!

This is a debating forum, not a magazine for the publication of essays.
Lewis33
 
  1  
Reply Sat 21 May, 2011 08:49 am
@fresco,
Ya, you may be right. I think I will stop posting. Bye.
Cyracuz
 
  1  
Reply Sat 21 May, 2011 09:33 am
@Lewis33,
Not interested in discussion. Only in talking at people... Thanks for yer honesty.
0 Replies
 
G H
 
  1  
Reply Sat 21 May, 2011 10:51 am
@Lewis33,
Quote:
I don't believe he debunked analytic philosophy, but I can understand why some might think so. I think he just provided us with a new tool to work with, i.e., a method of analyzing language.

Yes, Wittgenstein contributed to the very evolution of analytic philosophy, regardless of whatever seeds Rorty might have believed he planted for his neopragmatism or post-epistemological era. First in the co-development with Russell of logical atomism, and later Witt was part of the trend from ideal-language analysis back to ordinary-language analysis (a phase which also eventually deteriorated). It was analytic philosophy that proclaimed itself as either the successor slash destroyer of traditional philosophy or an alternative activity that merely borrowed the term "philosophy".

"My method throughout is to point out mistakes in language. I am going to use the word 'philosophy' for the activity of pointing out such mistakes. Why do I wish to call our present activity philosophy, when we also call Plato's activity philosophy? Perhaps because of a certain analogy between them, or perhaps because of the continuous development of the subject. Or the new activity may take the place of the old because it removes mental discomforts the old was supposed to." --Wittgenstein's Lectures, 1932 - 35, edited by Alice Ambrose

Only in the 1960s with the advent of descriptive metaphysics and in the '70s with the return of a legit history of philosophy did analytic philosophy become more receptive to a larger variety of work produced prior to the 1900s.
fresco
 
  1  
Reply Sat 21 May, 2011 04:01 pm
@G H,
One of us does not seem to understand why Wittgenstein rejected his own Tractatus ! Smile

And from a historical viewpoint, the "linguistic turn" (die Kehre )was an attempt by philosophers to claim "some territory" of their own after being driven out of "mind" by psychology. Unfortunately such a claim was shown to be shaky by Quine .

G H
 
  1  
Reply Sat 21 May, 2011 05:45 pm
@fresco,
Quote:
One of us does not seem to understand why Wittgenstein rejected his own Tractatus ! Smile

You were perhaps responding to someone else? Otherwise, it seems that I must dismiss your comment as a random projection, though obviously still within the range of the overall topic.

Quote:
And from a historical viewpoint, the "linguistic turn" (die Kehre )was an attempt by philosophers to claim "some territory" of their own after being driven out of "mind" by psychology. Unfortunately such a claim was shown to be shaky by Quine .

So now you are what -- erroneously suggesting that analytic philosophy not only ended, but ceased with the close of its first phase in 1910, long before Quine's paper? Or am I simply returning the favor of arbitrarily projecting something upon you with that? Smile
fresco
 
  1  
Reply Sat 21 May, 2011 06:08 pm
@G H,
I am speaking from the the point of view of scepticism about the "authoritative status" of philosophy as "an academic discipline" as a result of developments in other disciplines. That status has its own history which impinged of the internal historicism of philosophy per se, hence paradigmatic shifts such as die Kehre, and post-modernism etc. There will always be philosophical die-hards who ignore sell-by dates for their particular paradigms.
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