Writing and Reality


Writing And Reality: On Wittgenstein's Theory Of Language

The topic for discussion in this paper has its roots in Wittgenstein's Tractatus, specifically, the picture theory of meaning, sections 2.12 through 2.201. I think that this very short and simple section admirably sums the thrust of his theory of language, and that of his idea that Philosophy is nothing more than the clarification of facts. The use of symbolism employed by a picture, a thought, a sentence, to convey truth rather than falsehood about the world can be used to show that the picture is a model of reality, that "in the picture and the pictured there is something identical in order that the one can be a picture of the other at all." In this way the logical structure between the picture and the fact must exist between the sentence and the fact. Contrary to his theory, that what exists between the picture and the fact can only be shown, that it cannot be said. It looks rather like it can be said as well, since then the sentence will have to have the same structure as the fact, like a painting or a photograph, or even music, unless, of course, it doesn't have a corresponding fact, as in the case of insanity. Otherwise, how could language be developed at all? (The world is everything that is the case.) Further, these pictures are logical facts about the world. They must be logical in order for them to exist, and anything that is not logical does not exist. My discussion will take into consideration the possibility that mysticism is illogical, hence nonsensical. I will show that Wittengstein's theory of language is exactly analogous to the law of definite proportions in physical science, and to his picture theory of meaning, which essentially states that we can only logically give names to those things which already have a reference, and that this theory was predetermined by the law of definite proportions.

The Law of definite proportions states that a compound always contains elements in certain definite proportions, never in any other combinations. In this way it is possible to make compounds out of elements, and the same number of elements will always be required to make certain compounds. This, in effect, was discovered, (and new compounds still are discovered in the same way) by accident, by experiment, by combining any number of different elements until you have a useful (or not so useful, albeit, destructive) compound. The Periodic Table of Elements best demonstrates this theory. In addition, the law of definite proportions as a basis for chemical theory has a wider meaning. In electrolysis, for example, water always yields 2 parts of hydrogen and 1 part of oxygen, but it doesn't matter where the water comes from or how it is made. Furthermore, water always has the same properties: it is wet, it dissolves salt and sugar and it always freezes at the same temperature. The properties of water do not depend on our will, nor does any other physical element or compound in the world.

The following examples from Wittgenstein support this theory: •An atomic fact is a combination of objects; •It is essential to a thing that it can be a constituent part of an atomic fact; •In logic nothing is accidental: if a thing can occur in an atomic fact the possibility of that atomic fact must already be prejudged in the thing (this is the law of definite proportions); •If all objects are given, then thereby all possible atomic facts also given; •objects contain the possibility of all states of affairs; •The configuration of the object forms the atomic fact; •In the atomic facts objects hang one in another, like the links of a chain; •The totality of existent atomic facts is the world; •Although a proposition may only determine one place in logical space, the whole logical space must already be given by it. This final statement leads into the discussion about language and reference and supports the idea that language must have a corresponding object as its reference, otherwise it is meaningless, and as Wittgenstein points out, is better left unsaid. That language must have a reference, and a logical reference, may prove that mysticism is nonsense.

Wittgenstein writes, "From the existence or non-existence of an atomic fact we cannot infer the existence or non-existence of another." In other words, to say that God exists because the world is orderly does not mean that we can infer God from orderliness, as it is so popular to do. Why should orderliness equal godliness? This is not a tautology. The logic of the world can only be shown in tautologies. The total reality is the world and the world is all that is the case. The propositions of the logic of language must always be true if they are to say anything true about the world. Or, "if from the fact that a proposition is obvious (A therefore B) it does not follow that it is true, then obviousness is no justification for our belief that it is true." We could, very simply, leave off the explanation for the non-existence of God here and this should suffice. If the world is all that is the case and the total reality is the world, then it makes no logical sense to talk about an idea (mysticism) which has no reference. At most this is solipsism, the picture and the sentence do not correspond to anything in reality. He writes, "In the picture and the pictured there must be something identical in order for one to be a picture of the other at all." When we think about mysticism the only pictures we can make to ourselves are pictures of facts, and these facts are of the world and not outside the world. As he points out, not every picture must be spatial, "The logical picture can depict the world" since is has the same logical structure in common with its fact. In this way we can imagine the existence of California from New York, since the picture has the same structure as California, and since our experience supports the inference. However, when mystics use their visions to support the same kind of inference, they do not tell us anything about the world, only about the state of their minds. This is solipsism, and in some cases, solipsism turns to insanity when the pictures of the mind become so jumbled as to lose their correspondence to reality.

"In order to discover whether the picture is true or false we must compare it with reality. It cannot be discovered from the picture alone whether it is true or false. There is no picture which is a priori true." The mystics must logically be having false visions, since their pictures cannot be a priori true. He writes that what is thinkable is also possible be that we cannot think anything illogical. The basic premise of mysticism, that life is eternal and that eternal life may be glimpsed on earth, is, as Wittgenstein writes, "not only in no way guarantied, but this assumption in the first place will not do for us what we always tried to make it do." And that is to solve the mystery. In death the world does not change, it ceases—death is not an event of life since it is not lived through! Logically, if an answer cannot be given then the question cannot be asked. Most questions, he says, result from the fact that we do not understand the logic of our language. This, then leads, to his most eloquent description of the subject of philosophy: it is about language clarification only. "The object of philosophy is the logical clarification of thoughts." It is about demonstrating that when people speak, they must provide meaning for the signs (names) of their propositions, otherwise they should say nothing. All other sciences have nothing to do with the study of philosophy. This is why it is so important that our law schools and our entire judicial system, especially the Supreme Court, be comprised of philosophers. Every decision they make is a philosophical problem of language.

Overhauling the problems of language involves the elucidation of how we give names to propositions (the signs). This problem is the problem of determining whether or not the structure of the language has something logically in common with the structure of the fact. The signs employed in propositions he calls names. The object and the name are one: A=A and vice versa. Names are different from propositions in that propositions say how a thing is while names say what a thing is. The sign is written or said and is the part of the symbol which is perceptible by the senses. He points out that one word may easily have two different symbols, such as Green is green, but that the two are often applied in the same way in the proposition. This is where confusion in language and meaning arises. It may even happen when two different words are supposed to be equal, such as life and conception, abortion and murder, when they actually are not equal because they have two different symbols. In order to remedy this problem, Wittgenstein says we must employ a symbolism which obeys the rules of logical grammar. This might be simpler than it looks, if only because of his fundamental rule to say nothing except what can be said. Or, he says, "if a sign is not necessary then it is meaningless." "The totality of propositions is the language."

The only thing which all things have logically in common, he says, is that every correct symbolism must be translatable into every other. This means that objects can only be mentioned in connection with some definite property, and this creates the quandary of generalization (more or less solved in The Blue and Brown Books). It is impossible to give a name to one object which also refers to every other object, since so many different variables are involved with atomic facts. Hence it is impossible to say anything about the world as a whole—one can only make statements about bounded portions of the world, he says. This is quite correct for philosophy, in that it eliminates the tendency to generalize and to make propositions meaningless. After all, the particular case is really all anyone is capable of talking about. "Since we cannot give the number of names with different meanings, we cannot give the composition of the proposition." In other words, the sense of the proposition should be immediately understood, when it is not, and we have to verify it, it shows that the proposition is fundamentally false in the first place.

According to Wittgenstein, the logical picture of facts (the thought of the object) is the thing which must have the same logical structure as the fact. This can only be shown, it cannot be said, hence it cannot be shown with a sign (spoken or written word). The reason for this is solipsism. Language disguises the thought, he says, like clothing disguises the body. I wonder if it logically necessary that language (the signs) disguise the thought (hence the fact?) or if this happens both intentionally and unintentionally. If signs were rightly expressed, then wouldn't they have the same logical structure as the facts they are meant to infer? This has to do, I think, with intuitively knowing the language, of anything—modern art, physics, poetry, and language as an infant. He says that we possess the capability of constructing languages without having an idea how and what each word means, just as we speak without knowing how we produce the sounds. From this it is possible to grasp the logic of language, intuitively. Yet I think that until we understand the logical structure of the signs we fall continually into that same trap of giving no meaning to certain signs in our propositions. But when we speak and all signs have meaning, then these signs should also have the same logical structure as their facts.

It is important that language itself be the structure for its fact (and if it is a tautology it logically is) because (6.113) if propositions are logical, it is their characteristic mark that we can see from the symbol alone that they are true, and this, as Wittgenstein says, contains in itself the whole philosophy of logic. Further, the most important fact about non-logical propositions is that we cannot immediately see that they are true or false from the propositions alone. (We would need to verify them in the world with their corresponding facts.) When language gives a tautology it shows that it is connected a priori with its corresponding structure in reality. This is how language and certain abstractions can be grasped before we understand them. This is why mysticism does not work. These sections in the Tractatus, sections 2.21-2.201, and 6.113-6.1201, very nicely agglomerate Wittgenstein's whole theory of language, meaning, and naming.

Copyright 2012, Kathryn Kurtz, WritingUnderOatch.com ©. This work is protected under the U.S. copyright laws. It may not be

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