FINAL WRITE-Up [Firstly to summarize: Wittgenstein’s thought is divided into the early W. and the late W. The early Wittgenstein said that statements only have meaning if they refer to facts (or are statements of logic or maths) while the later W. said that words mean what you use them for! and may not refer to entities at all!
The following statement appears here : The difference between Heidegger’s early and late works is more a difference of emphasis than a radical break like that between the early and late works of Wittgenstein…)]
I am not a philosopher. I haven’t got that kind of mind. I was repelled by Socrates sitting on the up-ended stone in the market-place in the early morning and asking questions that would have left me agape and empty of mind. It was a mistaken methodology of thought, and by the wrong kind of minds – bursting with logic, with mathematics, and later with an admiration for science. This kind of mind has done great things in science and its applications, but when it comes to Wisdom (which to me is a wisdom on the human mind, the human heart, and on human affairs) it is the mind of the nerd. I unfortunately can’t find a more rational word than that. It is a mind that lacks human intelligence, lacks human sensibility to human life. (These last words I have derived pretty well from F.R. Leavis who is far beyond me on matters of Literature, and who wasn’t against philosophy himself; he regarded it as another approach by another kind of mind.)
Philosophy also, to me, consisted from its beginning, of some kinds of obvious mistakes in the use of language. They were so obvious and basic, at the very roots of thinking what to say before one even opens one’s mouth, that I couldn’t work them out. Wittgenstein, beginning on the shoulders of Bertrand Russell, was the first philosopher who conceived of first one, then another, grand mistake in Philosophy’s use of language, and felt he had abolished Philosophy as it had been practised.
I haven’t read the original words of Wittgenstein, or even tried the on-line Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on him. I would need to have a mind like that of philosophers to be able to do so. I have gone to sites that explain him to other kinds of mind, even ostensibly to kids or dummies.
I tried initially to refer each of my statements to the site I derived it from, but found it impossibly laborious. Many sites have to say many of the same things. I have made mistakes in attributing my statements to exactly where I got them from. I occasionally quote almost verbatim. So to begin my understanding of W.:
Some biography of W. to understand his kind of mind: He and his family were very musical. He studied mechanical engineering in Berlin and then at the University of Manchester for his doctorate. He became a research student in an engineering laboratory and did research on the behaviour of kites in the upper atmosphere. He did aeronautical research on a propeller with small jet engines on the end of its blades; he designed and tested a prototype.
But he had also studied in Germany briefly under mathematician-philosopher Gottlob Frege who urged him to read Bertrand Russell. He read Russell and Whitehead’s Principia Mathematica (1913) which explained that mathematics was just logic (to put it crudely which is all I can do), and went to Cambridge to study philosophy from 1912 under G.E. Moore. He was also tutored by Russell (most of this from here and here.)
During this period, his three major interests were philosophy, music and travelling (from here). He became a passionate, though troubled and doubting, convert to Christianity. His family had been Jewish for 4000 years but converted a generation or two earlier. He served on the Russian front in the Austro-Hungarian Army in WWI where he devoured Tolstoy’s commentary on the Gospels.
He was of the Left but not Marxist. He went to Russia in the 1930s but left after a short time (from here).
Wittgenstein’s Philosophy. The early Wittgenstein: The philosophic thought of the early Wittgenstein was published in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921). It consisted of points numbered in stages, sub-stages and sub-sub-stages, such as 1, 1.1, and 1.12.
Its main thrust was his Logical Atomism which extended Russell’s original: that the meaningfulness of language comes from basic statements that refer to facts in the world, but that are hidden within the actual statements we make. Once we break statements down into these hidden logical atoms, the age-old philosophical puzzling about many statements falls away. (It would be nice if I could give an example but I can’t presently find one on the websites and haven’t got the confidence or philosophic patience to make one up!) So, W. came to believe at this stage already that the philosopher’s job was to clear up linguistic misunderstandings.
To repeat the above in other words, because it is so important of Wittgenstein: Logical Atomism is the theory that language to be meaningful should refer to facts in the world (which sounds pretty commonsensical). But the statements we actually make are often too complex and unclear to see this. Therefore the philosopher’s job is to break down, to analyse, each of our statements into the basic unstated logic behind it. This will consist of constituent statements, some of which refer to facts and are therefore meaningful, and some which may not and are therefore meaningless.
To paraphrase yet again, from this website here (on Wittgenstein’s Tractatus in its post on Analytic Philosophy): Like Russell, W. thought that the surface grammar of statements disguised their logical form. Through analysis a true statement would be shown to consist of elementary particles which pictured the world (plus logical operators like ‘if’, ‘not’, ‘and’ and ‘or’). A sentence, which did not picture the world, was devoid of meaning. ‘Picture-theory’ is used by W. for his idea that the world is composed of atomic facts which can be pictured in one’s thoughts and then expressed in atomic statements. Sentences, if they are to mean anything, must picture the world, i.e. mirror reality. (The ‘picture’ image sounds commonsensical.)
Metaphysics and ethics are meaningless because they don’t picture objective facts (i.e. sensed reality) and therefore can’t be proved true or false! There are of course also the analytic propositions of logic and mathematics, which are meaningful even though they are merely formal tautologies. Sentences, in order to picture reality, contain names referring to objects or states of affairs in the world (from here on the Tractatus).
To paraphrase yet again, from James Mannion on Wittgenstein in netplaces, which may no longer be available: W.’s basic atoms of speech refer to facts in the world that our senses recognize and that includes those given to us by scientific method. This excludes metaphysics because the latter works from concepts in the mind rather than sensorily recognized facts in the world. An example of the latter is Plato working out that there are ‘particulars’ (objects in the world) plus the universal concepts they fall under such as ‘cat’ or ‘blackness’. These ‘universals’, said Plato or Socrates, are actually perfect entities existing in some kind of heaven, of which what we see on Earth are imperfect copies! That is an example of Metaphysics!
Bertrand Russell wrote the introduction to W.’s Tractatus, but W. said at some stage that R. had shown fundamental misunderstandings of it (from here).
As well as excluding metaphysics, logical atomism was an exposé of the false mystery of many words and statements that had set philosophers to philosophizing for 2500 years. They should first have analysed them down into their constituent logical atoms referring to facts in the world, and there would have been no need for ‘philosophizing’!
Did I read somewhere that W. derived the atomism of the world (into its individual facts) from the atomism of language, which seems to me the wrong way round. ‘Language, thought, and reality share a common structure, fully expressible in logical terms’ as one of my sources says. But, according to here, W. thought that the structure of language is determined by the structure of reality (which sounds pretty unexceptional). We can talk about reality because we have words that stand for things (OK!), and because the words in a sentence have a relationship to each other that corresponds to the relationship things have to each other in the world. (OK!)
Ancient philosophical problems can be solved using logically perfect language without the confusing and muddying effects of everyday contexts (as I’ve said above), but W. apparently saw that that such language would be sterile and do no useful work, from here. (What does he mean by ‘no useful work’?)
The Tractatus came to the conclusion that the only proper method for philosophy is to abandon philosophy for the natural sciences as well as for linguistic analysis.
W.seems to have pointed out against himself that his own propositions in the Tractatus should be regarded as meaningless because they do not express basic data of sense-experience, or logic or maths either.
From here: Aesthetic judgments about what is beautiful, and ethical judgments about what is good, cannot be expressed within W.s logical language because they aren’t facts. W. himself seems to have made the famous comment: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” A properly logical language, Wittgenstein said, deals only with facts, with what is true.
W. had the idea that the meaning of a statement lay in its empirical verification i.e. verification by the senses, often by way of scientific method. This was taken up by the Logical Positivists of the Vienna Circle in the 1920s to be the last word on a large proportion of what constituted Philosophy, certainly in Meaning and Epistemology. They, following the early W. of the Tractatus, said that only words or statements referring to facts that can be proven, are meaningful. They especially elevated scientific method as the way to verification of true fact. Some of them even said that the meaning of a statement was constituted by its verification, as it seems did W.
They too rejected metaphysics because it thought it could reveal facts by working them out logically, not by apprehending them with the senses. And these ‘facts’ were things like God, Truth, Beauty, the Good.
The Logical Atomism and its related anti-metaphysics, in the Tractatus, add up to ‘the early Wittgenstein’. He believed he had solved all the problems of philosophy; that there was nothing left for philosophers to do. He abandoned philosophy for nearly a decade.
The later Wittgenstein: But W. was already drifting away from his original thoughts, and didn’t agree with the Logical Positivists, and even said they had misunderstood him. He displayed almost mystical states when he was with them.
Yet contact with them revived his interest in philosophy. He began to think that he had made “grave mistakes”, and that the picture theory of meaning and logical atomism as well were untenable! His earlier claims to have achieved a final analysis of language were mistaken! These thoughts, regarded as ‘the later Wittgenstein’, were published some 20 years later in his Philosophical Investigations (1953), which was prepared for publication by others.
According to here, it is brilliantly aphoristic but reads in places like a jumble of unconnected paragraphs. It focussed largely on language and psychology rather than on the logic and objective truth of the Tractatus. It became just as influential.
He thought now that meaningfulness isn’t limited to logically atomistic pictures of sensorily or scientifically verified facts in the world (plus logic and maths). Meaningful words can also express one’s feelings or values (You don’t say!). He saw through to the idea that language has its meaning from what one uses it for, in the community one is using it on. ‘God’, for example, doesn’t exist as a fact to many people, but He does to others: so language that includes ‘God’ has meaning to them.
W. was saying that what one says has the meaning one intends it for, in the community one is speaking to. W. called this a ‘language-game’, each game having its own rules.
From here: W. said that the meaning of language is what it is used for! It was a break from the classical philosophic view (still believed in by the early W. in the Tractatus) that meaning is representation. W. also said now that ‘special-purpose’ concepts like Truth, Beauty and the Good have their meanings entirely in their uses, and don’t refer to entities at all. There is no such entity as Truth or Beauty or the Good!
As Horwich puts it, from here, the later W. said that just because empirical concepts like ‘red’, ‘magnetic’ or ‘alive’ stand for specific properties, it is wrong to think ‘Truth’ does too.
W. pointed out that ‘special-purpose concepts’ like Truth, The Good, Object, Person (and Beauty?) have no essence and can’t be reduced to a single meaning, essence or definition (all three of the latter words meaning the same thing here, I think) as can the empirical concepts that scientists deal with.
From here: Philosophers had assumed that Truth had a single nature which all true statements share. Some said that Truth, and therefore all truths, correspond to reality, others that all truths are useful, or are rationally coherent, and so on. Each of these views falls short of encompassing the essence of Truth. According to W., ‘Truth’ or ‘True’is simply a word with different uses.
It may for instance be a way of economizing on words, as for example in saying “e=mc2 is true” instead of “it is the case that e=mc2″.
Or “Einstein’s last words were true” instead of “Einstein’s last words were that E=mc2, and E does equal mc2″.
Actually of course, saying that a statement is true is simply equivalent to the statement itself. So, “It’s true that E=mc2” is equivalent to ‘E=mc2”.
The concept of Truth is precisely such plural and trivial uses, and the search for a single entity, let alone Plato’s metaphysical entity in heaven, was a wild goose-chase (from here).
Horwich, from here, uses a term from the philosophic vocabulary, ‘conceptual pluralism’, to refer to W.’s idea that ‘Truth’ has several uses in several language-games, and isn’t reducible to anything singular. (That I felt agape when I imagined myself in front of Socrates was perhaps because I couldn’t identify any such entities, though unable to conceive the feeling.)
So, saying that the entities Philosophy had been cogitating over for millennia didn’t exist was another enormous reason for saying that Philosophy needed to clear up its misunderstandings of language. The early W. had already said this on behalf of his and Russell’s Logical Atomism.
From here, almost verbatim: The philosopher’s task had (almost) always been to do logical analysis to solve problems (for example, the problem of “free will”, the relationship between “mind” and “matter”, what is “the good” or “the beautiful” and so on). But these were pseudo-problems that arose from philosopher’s misuse of language.’
[From here (on Wittgenstein’s Tractatus in its post on Analytic Philosophy: Language Games):] So for the later Wittgenstein, the job of philosophy should now be ‘the treatment of an illness’, the illness being ‘the bewitchment of intelligence by language’. For the early W., the illness had been the obscuring of language’s logical atoms.
Is this the same as saying that philosophers can only hope to correct mistakes in language that scientists and others get into and which vitiate their work.
Bertrand Russell, probably at this stage of W.’s thinking , complained (according to here) that W. had “grown tired of serious thinking and invented a doctrine which would make [it] unnecessary.”
Lynch, here, writes that W. was over-generalizing when he said that Philosophy should only correct language mistakes, and should “leave the world as it is”. No, says Lynch, philosophy can improve our way of thinking and acting on ethical questions, as did Socrates and Locke, the latter with his view that there are human rights. The Enlightenment philosophers encouraged us to base our beliefs on rational evidence.
W., according to Lynch, would say that it is when special-purpose concepts are turned into metaphysical entities that his concept of philosophy as curing linguistic misunderstandings is relevant.
Lynch also writes that when we accept these special-purpose words as concepts in ordinary language, they turn out themselves to be historically-shaped metaphysical assumptions. (I don’t think Lynch gives examples and I haven’t understood.)
I would have thought that the arguments of the early and late W. would have brought Philosophy to an end, and that analysis of language–mistakes would now simply be a sub-speciality within Linguistics. But no, it has continued as ‘Analytic Philosophy’.
That was the nub of Wittgenstein; here are some more terms that people have used:
‘Scientistic’! — Horwich uses this term for W.’s view of what Philosophy had always been trying to. This ‘scientism’ consisted of trying to ‘arrive at simple, general principles, and to uncover profound explanations, and to correct naïve opinions.’
Horwich quotes from Wittgenstein’s The Blue Book:
‘Our craving for generality has [as one] source … our preoccupation with the method of science. I mean the method of reducing the explanation of natural phenomena to the smallest possible number of primitive natural laws; and, in mathematics, of unifying the treatment of different topics by using a generalization. Philosophers constantly see the method of science before their eyes, and are irresistibly tempted to ask and answer in the way science does. This tendency is the real source of metaphysics, and leads the philosopher into complete darkness. I want to say here that it can never be our job to reduce anything to anything, or to explain anything. Philosophy really is “purely descriptive.” ‘
Trying to find a single essence for each special-purpose concept led the ancient philosophers into the fallacies of metaphysics. And in other ways too, philosophers are tempted to ask and answer in the way science does. W. said it shouldn’t be the philosophers’ job to reduce anything to anything, or to explain anything, like scientists do.
Philosophers’ generalizations began with Thales claiming that everything was made of water.
(‘Descriptive’, in the above excerpt from W., seems for me a strange word to use, particularly in view of Russell having used the term ‘descriptive knowledge’ for knowledge derived from other people rather than by direct sensory acquaintance (see here). Someone has implied that W. actually uses ‘descriptive’ for something else entirely, namely ‘linguistically analytic’, someone else ‘elucidatory’.)
I think the above excerpt from W.’s The Blue Book means that armchair logicking can’t arrive at knowledge like science does. I think that Philosophy was forced into thinking it had to provide knowledge because it was the only method then available –empirical science only arrived 2000 years later. W. thought that Philosophy now should stick to clearing up linguistic mistakes.
Is this the same as thinking that Philosophers can only hope to correct mistakes in language that scientists and others get into and which vitiate their work.
Lynch here uses the term ‘reductive explanation’ for ‘scientism’: A reductive explanation of X tells us the essence of X, what all and only X’s have in common. W. of course said that each special-purpose concept has many meanings, and isn’t an entity with an essence.
Here is something almost verbatim from here so I have put it in quotation marks: ‘Wittgenstein’s view of what philosophy should be, changed little over his life. In the Tractatus he says that “philosophy is not one of the natural sciences” but “aims at the logical clarification of thoughts”. Philosophy is not descriptive but elucidatory. Its aim is to clear up confusion. It follows that philosophers should not concern themselves so much with what is actual, keeping up with the latest popularizations of science, say, which Wittgenstein despised. The philosopher’s proper concern is with what is possible, or rather with what is conceivable. This depends on our concepts and the ways they fit together as seen in language. What is conceivable and what is not, what makes sense and what does not, depends on the rules of language, of grammar.’ (I have almost understood the last three sentences but, I am ashamed to say, they still need some clarification for me.)T
To simplify this down, W. thought that philosophy can only arrive at conceptual, analytic, a priori truths (from here); also “that traditional philosophy is necessarily pervaded with oversimplification; analogies are unreasonably inflated; exceptions to simple regularities are wrongly dismissed”. (Philosophers, I have felt, also draw on banal examples from human life and speech, but this may be because of their kind of mind).
Philosophy-students, from the beginning of their studies, should be informed of this critical attitude of Wittgenstein’s towards Philosophy. Philosophy always sounded defective and nerdish to me from Thales onward, and yet lecturers and students took it straight-facedly. I always felt that its problems have never been real but have always lain stillborn in mistakes in language and logic, but it was beyond my capacity to clarify,
I felt from the beginning that there was something basically wrong with Philosophy at the level of language but couldn’t bear to spend time flogging my mind in such a dead world. I hurried to get out. W. said that philosophy, because of its inevitably armchair logicking, cannot provide knowledge, that it can only be expected to correct language mistakes. The philosopher, said W., has always presumed to produce theories on such lofty matters as the nature of consciousness, how knowledge of the external world is possible, whether our decisions can be truly free, about the structure of a just society, and so on, by means of pure reasoning — by logical deduction and sophisticated supporting arguments. But, said W., such purely mental activity cannot provide fundamental insights into the human condition or the ultimate character of the universe, or how we are to arrange our lives.
I am astonished that philosophers as late as the Rationalists of the 18th century and the Idealists of the 19th century still a faith in the abilities of pure reason as the ancient Greeks did. But I don’t think that scientists either, with their empirical method, can provide truths on human questions, certainly whenever the unique individual self is involved. For that one needs a ‘human sensibility to human life’ which scientists and philosophers haven’t got the right minds for.
[The whole philosophic topic of ‘private language’ is something I haven’t understood either. W. said it was impossible to have a private language to express one’s own experiences and inner mental states. That follows, I suspect, from his view that one’s words and their meanings can only exist in a social language-game. W.’s view seems also to have been seen as a refutation of Descartes’ Cogito, ergo sum.
Towards the end of his short life, he was still bothering with such things as ‘external world scepticism’ — whether one can be certain there is a world out there and not just in one’s mind! It seems to me a typical pseudo-problem of philosophy’s wrong-headedness, and sounding the sort of thing that would have worried Descartes. (Didn’t W. think this ‘problem’ too was a language mistake or a more general mistake that needed deflating? Or perhaps he did, if I had read further.)