PHIL 4150: Analytic Philosophy
Dr. Robert Lane
Lecture Notes: Thursday October 11, 2012

 

[5.1.4.] Surface Grammar is No Guide to Logical Function.

 

 

(K) The logical structure of a proposition is not revealed by the surface grammar of written or spoken propositional signs (sentences).

 

 

4.002                      Man possesses the capacity of constructing languages, in which every sense [“Sinn” – the same word used by Frege that gets translated as “sense”] can be expressed, without having an idea how and what each word means—just as one speaks without knowing how the single sounds are produced.

                                Colloquial language is a part of the human organism and is not less complicated than it.

                                From it it is humanly impossible to gather immediately the logic of language.

Language disguises the thought; so that from the external form of the clothes one cannot infer the form of the thought they clothe, because the external form of the clothes is constructed with quite another object than to let the form of the body be recognized.

The silent adjustments to understand colloquial language are enormously complicated. …

 

·         The surface grammar of a proposition spoken or written in a natural language (English, German, etc.) does not share the structure of the fact that the proposition represents.

 

·         In other words, the logical structures Wittgenstein describes in the picture theory are not apparent in the surface grammar of natural language.

 

 

4.0031                   All philosophy is “Critique of language” … Russell’s merit is to have shown that the apparent logical form of the proposition need not be its real form.

 

·         Recall Russell’s treatment of “denoting phrases,” including definite descriptions: sentences containing such phrases do not function in the way that their surface grammar leads us to believe. For example, “The present king of France is bald” seems to be a simple subject-predicate sentence that refers to an entity and predicates the property of baldness of it. But on Russell’s analysis, that is not how the sentence actually functions. Once it is analyzed properly, we will see that it actually contains a certain sort of existence claim: “there is an x such that x is presently king of France, and for any y, if y is presently king of France, then y is the same thing as x, and x is bald.” A proper analysis will reveal the logical goings-on “under the hood” of the sentence’s surface grammar.

 

·         Wittgenstein’s view is like Russell’s but taken to the furthest possible extent: we cannot tell at all what the real logical structure of a proposition is by looking at the surface grammar of its printed or spoken occurrences.

 

 

(L) An ordinary proposition is capable (in principle, if not in fact) of being analyzed into a number of much simpler “elementary propositions,” each of which pictures (represents) an atomic fact.

 

4.21                        The simplest proposition, the elementary proposition, asserts the existence of an atomic fact. (p.126)

 

 

(M) An elementary proposition consists of the “names” of the objects that compose the atomic fact that that elementary proposition represents.

 

4.22                        The elementary proposition consists of names. It is a connexion, a concatenation, of names.

4.221                      It is obvious that in the analysis of propositions we must come to elementary propositions, which consist of names in immediate combination. …

4.23                        The name occurs in the proposition only in the context of the elementary proposition. (p.126)

 

·         By “name” Wittgenstein does not mean ordinary proper names as they occur in non-elementary propositions. He has in mind the most fundamental pieces of elementary propositions. Each “name” in an elementary proposition is the name of one of the objects in the atomic fact that the elementary proposition represents.

·         For example, “The cat is on the mat” is a (non-elementary) proposition that represents the (non-atomic) fact that the cat is on the mat. In principle, “The cat is on the mat” can be analyzed down into its components: elementary propositions. And in principle, the fact that the cat is on the mat can be analyzed down into its components: atomic facts. Each of the elementary propositions consists of names of the parts of one of the atomic facts that constitute the (non-atomic) fact that the cat is on the mat.

 

 

(N) An elementary proposition is true when the atomic fact that it pictures exists and false when that atomic fact does not exist.

 

4.25                        If the elementary proposition is true, the atomic fact exists; if it is false the atomic fact does not exist.

 

 

Wittgenstein was so convinced that linguistic meaning requires the sort of picturing described above that he was not bothered by the fact that he was never able to analyze a single proposition to reveal the elementary propositions hidden beneath its surface grammar or to analyze a single (non-atomic) fact to reveal the atomic facts of which it consists.

 

 

[5.1.5.] The Meaninglessness of Philosophy.

 

It is a consequence of his picture theory of meaning that much of what passes for meaningful utterances in ordinary language really isn’t meaningful at all.

 

Such propositions cannot be analyzed into elementary propositions as his theory requires, not even in principle. They do not picture the world (even incorrectly) and so they are, strictly speaking, without meaning: they are meaningless.

 

On his view, much of philosophy is meaningless in exactly this way:

 

4.003                      Most propositions and questions, that have been written about philosophical matters, are not false, but senseless [“unsinning” – without Sinn or sense]. We cannot, therefore, answer questions of this kind at all, but only state their senselessness. Most questions and propositions of the philosophers result from the fact that we do not understand the logic of our language.

                                (They are of the same kind as the question whether the Good is more or less identical than the Beautiful.)

                                And so it is not to be wondered at that the deepest problems are really no problems. (p.124)[1]

 

The traditional questions asked by philosophers, including questions about the nature of the good, beauty, etc., and all of the answers that various philosophers have given to those questions, are literally without meaning. Those kinds of philosophical pronouncements cannot be analyzed into elementary propositions that picture atomic facts, and therefore they cannot represent the world at all.

 

6.42                        Hence also there can be no ethical propositions.

                                Propositions cannot express anything higher.

6.421                      It is clear that ethics cannot be expressed.

                                Ethics is transcendental.

                                (Ethics and aesthetics are one.)[2]

 

[The following two paragraphs are not included in your textbook.]

6.52                        We feel that even if all possible scientific questions be answered, the problems of life have still not been touched at all. Of course there is then no question left, and just this is the answer.

6.521                      The solution of the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of this problem.

                                (Is not this the reason why men to whom after long doubting the sense of life became clear, could not then say wherein this sense consisted?)

                                There is indeed the inexpressible. This shows itself; it is the mystical.[3]

 

 

Only the propositions of the natural sciences are genuinely meaningful.

 

6.53                        The right method of philosophy would be this. To say nothing except what can be said, i.e. the propositions of natural science, i.e. something that has nothing to do with philosophy: and then always, when someone else wished to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him that he had given no meaning to certain signs in his propositions. This method would be unsatisfying to the other—he would not have the feeling that we were teaching him philosophy—but it would be the only strictly correct method. (p.128)

 

Any other sort of statement, including the statements of philosophy, cannot picture the world in the way that Wittgenstein’s theory requires, and so is literally meaningless. And that includes the Tractatus itself!

 

 

6.54                        My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.)

                                He must surmount these propositions; then he sees the world rightly.

7                              Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.[4]

 

 

But we must be careful here. Wittgenstein did not hold that philosophical claims, including the bulk of the Tractatus, are gibberish.

 

Such claims may be, strictly speaking, meaningless or senseless in that they are unsayable—they cannot be expressed in language, given the picture theory of meaning.

 

But for Wittgenstein, this does not mean that they are gibberish. Although the Tractatus is senseless, it is nonetheless possible to understand it. He opens the preface of the Tractatus as follows: “This book will perhaps only be understood by those who have themselves already thought the thoughts which are expressed in it—or similar thoughts.”[5]

 

 

[5.1.6.] The Purpose of Philosophy.

 

If the bulk of what passes for philosophy is meaningless or senseless, then how should philosophy proceed? What is its purpose?

 

Wittgenstein tells us:

 

4.111                      Philosophy is not one of the natural sciences.

                                (The word “philosophy” must mean something which stands above or below, but not beside the natural sciences.)

4.112                      The object of philosophy is the logical clarification of thoughts.

                                Philosophy is not a theory but an activity.

                                A philosophical work consists essentially of elucidations.

                                The result of philosophy is not a number of “philosophical propositions”, but to make propositions clear.

                                Philosophy should make clear and delimit sharply the thoughts which otherwise are, as it were, opaque and blurred.[6]

 

So the purpose of philosophy is not to answer questions about goodness, justice, beauty, reality, etc. It is to clarify our concepts.

 

As we will see, this view of what philosophy is supposed to do, as well as the picture theory of meaning, greatly influenced the members of the Vienna Circle and led the way for logical positivism.

 

 

Stopping point for Thursday October 11. For next time, read M&S ch.44: A.J. Ayer, “The Elimination of Metaphysics.” Your third response paper, which is about this reading, is due at the beginning of the next class.

 

 



[1] Alternative translation:

 

4.003                      Most of the propositions and questions to be found in philosophical works are not false but nonsensical. Consequently we cannot give any answer to questions of this kind, but can only point out that they are nonsensical. Most of the propositions and questions of philosophers arise from our failure to understand the logic of our language.

                                (They belong to the same class as the question whether the good is more or less identical than the beautiful.)

                                And it is not surprising that the deepest problems are in fact not problems at all

 

[2] Alternative translation:

 

6.42                        So too it is impossible for there to be propositions of ethics.

                                Propositions can express nothing that is higher.

6.421                      It is clear that ethics cannot be put into words.

                                Ethics is transcendental.

                                (Ethics and aesthetics are one and the same.)

 

[3] Alternative translation:

 

6.52                        We feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched. Of course there are then no questions left, and this itself is the answer.

6.521                      The solution of the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of the problem.

                                (Is not this the reason why those who have found after a long period of doubt that the sense of life became clear to them have then been unable to say what constituted that sense?)

                                There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical. [These two paragraphs are not included in your textbook]

 

 

[4] Alternative translation:

 

6.53                        The correct method in philosophy would really be the following: to say nothing except what can be said, i.e. propositions of natural science—i.e. something that has nothing to do with philosophy—and then, whenever someone else wanted to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him that he had failed to give a meaning to certain signs in his propositions. Although it would not be satisfying to the other person—he would not have the feeling that we were teaching him philosophy—this method would be the only strictly correct one.

6.54                        My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them—as steps—to climb up beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)

                                He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright.

7                              What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.

 

 

[5] Ogden trans., p.27. Alternative Translation: “Perhaps this book will be understood only by someone who has himself already had the thoughts that are expressed in it—or at least similar thoughts.” Pears and McGuiness trans., p.3.

 

[6] Alternative translation:

 

4.111                      Philosophy is not one of the natural sciences.

                                (The word “philosophy” must mean something whose place is above or below the natural sciences, not beside them.)

4.112                      Philosophy aims at the logical clarification of thoughts.

                                Philosophy is not a body of doctrine but an activity.

                                A philosophical work consists essentially of elucidations.

                                Philosophy does not result in ‘philosophical propositions’, but rather in the clarification of propositions.

                                Without philosophy thoughts are, as it were, cloudy and indistinct: its task is to make them clear and to give them sharp boundaries.

 



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