Wednesday, 1 April 2009

My Thesis: Introduction

The last time I published was before I went on my summer holidays and when I got back, spent the next month and a half writing my dissertation.  Hence, I was too busy to blog. 

Having finished my dissertation, I was very unhappy with it for a number of reasons, and felt like I was handing in a draft.  I have not looked over it again until this day, but I will put it up nonetheless.  I can't find the final version- it may have got deleted with my uni account.  This, however, is a fairly complete version which I will put up in chunks.  Maybe one day I'll rewrite it.

How far does Wittgenstein’s critique of the Augustinian Picture of Language undercut the motivation for the General Form of the Proposition?


The ‘General Form of the Proposition’ can be seen as a central plank of the Tractarian account linking language, thought and reality and one that later comes under critical scrutiny in the Philosophical Investigations. At first blush the specification of the general form of the proposition seems rather banal: “This is how things stand” (TLP 4.5). However, being introduced towards the end of the Tractatus, it concludes several strands of investigation as to how we can use language to say something about the world (truly or falsely). Wittgenstein’s ‘picture theory’, for instance, outlined a proposition’s representative ability in terms of a structural isomorphism between the proposition and the reality it depicts. The determinate way names are arranged in the proposition exactly mirror the way objects are arranged (i.e. how things stand) in the situation being represented. However, this only seems to hold true in terms of the ‘logical form’ of elementary propositions. The syntactical form of these propositions is very much unlike that of our everyday propositions, and so the question arises as to how we are able to assert facts in our everyday language. This forms the background to the more complex rendering of the GFP in remark 6. Here, Wittgenstein seeks to show how all our propositions can be formed as the result of a recursive operation on the elementary propositions. As such, whilst hidden, every proposition manages to show us ‘how things stand’ in the same way. They do so by being truth-function of the elementary propositions from which they are constructed. In this way, we are meant to have both a substantive answer to philosophical questions and a vindication of the features of our ordinary propositions.

The arguments against the GFP in the Investigations are deceptively simple in both aim and method. They don’t aim to show that the Tractatus position is false but simply show that is empty. That is, it not only fails to give a substantive account of the ‘connection between language and reality’ but fails to illuminate us about our ordinary propositions. However, it is hard to see how Wittgenstein establishes this given that the Investigations only seem to deal with the seemingly banal statement “This is how things stand” and not with the more complex working-out of the idea. One direction Wittgenstein takes is to persuade us that all the supposed features of a proposition the Tractatus makes so much of, are merely restatements of the concept of a proposition and not an illumination of it. However, how can he claim this if he doesn’t examine the detailed account that the Tractatus tries to give? Another direction he takes is to point out that we have no example of an elementary proposition and no calculus by which we can produce one. However, what about the reasons the Tractatus gave such that analysis must reveal elementary propositions? One can get the impression that when discussing Tractatus positions directly, Wittgenstein merely gives a crude caricature of his earlier positions or outright misrepresents them.

Clearly, Wittgenstein did not think he misrepresented the Tractatus because, as Monk points out, the beginning of the book where he engages with it (1-188) “is the only section of Wittgenstein’s later work with which he was fully satisfied”[1]. I will try to better understand the criticisms of the GFP, by reading the arguments against the background of Wittgenstein’s critique of the ‘Augustinian Picture of Language’. In the first paragraph of the Investigations he quotes St. Augustine’s recalling how he learnt to speak and says that this gives us a particular picture of the essence of language. Taken as a learning situation the description, as Goldfarb notes, “seems trivial, prosaic, well-nigh unobjectionable”[2]. However, taken as directing certain philosophical debates, Wittgenstein believed it can lead to confusion, including that of the Tractatus. In Monk’s words, “The rest of the book was to examine the implications of this idea and the traps which it led philosophers, and to suggest routes out of those traps.”[3] As such, I take the critique to be an indispensable interpretive tool, not only in highlighting a general difference between the Investigations and the Tractatus, but in looking at its implications for specific Tractatus positions. We will see that without the Augustinian picture, the GFP will seem uninformative by its own lights.

[1] (Monk, 1990) p.364

[2] (Goldfarb, 1983) p.268

[3] (Monk, 1990) p.364



Ákos Polgárdi said...

This should be interesting. Pray continue :)

Marian Metz said...

This is where your thesis writing started, completing the introduction part of the paper. And from the looks of it, parts of your thesis was well written. I wish you publish the whole thesis online for us to see it. Anyway, how’s life after completing the thesis. I bet you enjoy having a post-thesis activity every day.