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On WITTGENSTEIN: MIDTERM EXAMINATION

Prepared for For Professor STANLEY CLARKE for course32.310.

Written by: critical (on Scribd.com).


JAN 96

Question #1:

Wittgenstein's Tractatus is an exposition of the limits of language and thought.

Wittgenstein shows us these limits by delimiting language from within, showing the

isomorphic identity between the stuff of elementary propositions and elementary

facts. It is only at this level, the level of the atomic, that a correlation can be

described between anything that could be called language and the world.

The results of two logical operations the tautology and the contradiction have this

in common; they are both nonsense, that is, they tell us nothing about the world

(6.121). Tautologies show us the logical nature of propositions by demonstrating

that when combined they result in a tautology -- tautologies say nothing, but they

show the identity of form that Wittgenstein asserts must exist. An identity of

form between logic and mathematics, between logical propositions and the world.

This identity of structure is non-representable it can only be shown.

The logic of the world which the propositions of logic show in tautologies,
mathematics shows in equations (6.22). The fact
that the propositions of logic are tautologies shows the formal - logical -
properties of language, of the world.... In order that propositions connected
together in a definite way may give a tautology they must have definite properties
of structure. That they give a tautology when so connected shows therefore that
they possess these properties of structure (his emphasis 6.12).

To rephrase: the logical structure of the world is reflected (shown) through logic

by tautologies just as it is reflected (shown) through mathematics by equations.

This isomorphism of identity is not represented but is shown or reflected. It

cannot be represented as to do so one would need to be outside of language outside

of the world. All we can know is that the relationship between elementary

propositions and elementary facts is a relationship of structure a one to one

identity of structure.

Wittgenstein's account of pictures as a model of reality is the way he shows his

model of reductive analysis -- by example. We make to ourselves pictures of

facts (2.1).

These pictures are a model of reality. To be an adequate model of reality they

must share the structure of reality. This is the only grasp on reality we can

expect to have. Pictures show us the way in which we can grasp reality -- a

structure of identity. The only way we can compare a picture to reality is through

its form (structure) it shows us the link our language has with reality, but it cannot

represent this link.

That which mirrors itself in language, language cannot represent. That which
expresses itself in language, we cannot express by language (4.121).
A representation of the link is not possible it is the impossible ideal of getting
outside of the world and then describing it getting outside of language and

describing it -- these are the limits of thought and language. We cannot know,

understand, or theorize our connexion with reality we must delimit from within for

we cannot delimit from without.

At the point of completion of the Tractatus Wittgenstein left philosophy. The

significance of his work was clear to him, that which he studied and worked at was

meaningless nonsense. Philosophy does not have a connection with reality in a

meaningful way, just as ethics and psychology and most other fields of human study

can say nothing. What these fields of thought try to say and do is to describe the

inexplicable and the unknowable -- things which are unsayable. The field of physics

and medicine call out to him, only in the realm of mathematics can we do more than

merely show. In the realm of mathematics we can speak and in none other. In the

Tractatus Wittgenstein showed the line between that which we can say and that

which we can merely show.

The isomorphic identity which Wittgenstein explicated is at the level of

elementary or atomic stuff. The relationship between reality and our language can

only be shown since we cannot know that which is at the heart of our language -- to

do so requires bursting the limits of language itself.

The sense of the world must lie outside the world (6.41).
Although the above statement was made by Wittgenstein in a lead-up to a
discussion of ethics it could also be said in response to the metaphysician and the

natural scientist. The modern system with its faith in natural laws as a way of

explaining nature are in a worse position than the people of earlier times who

placed their faith in God and Fate. The modern peoples believe that everything is

explained and this is where they are incorrect (6.372). Natural laws do not

themselves describe necessity in the world, they are the spawn of language.

Causality is not explicable through language it is only showable. A tautology says

nothing but what it shows.

Question #2:

In his later works Wittgenstein attempts to look at ordinary uses of words or

ideas and explain how they are inconsistent with the broader lexicon of the

language use: Language communities practice certain language games that are not

often obvious even to (or perhaps especially to) the players of these games.

Language games are explored and described for the purpose of eliminating the

philosophical conundrum these inconsistencies generate. Many philosophical

problems are based on myths, inaccuracies and vagaries caused by peculiarities of


grammar and language use.

In chapter six "Thinking", Wittgenstein attempts to eliminate philosophical

problems that arise from the usual or everyday use of the term. Wittgenstein

addresses possible misconceptions of the term 'thinking';

In order to get clear about the meaning of the word 'think' we watch ourselves
while we think; what we observe will be what the word means! - But this concept is
not used like that. (It would be as if without knowing how to play chess, I were to
try and make out what the word 'mate' meant by close observation of the last
move of some game of chess.) p. 111
This way of approaching 'think' addresses it as a process of a varied nature,

instead of as a singularity. We are led to believe that 'thought' must be a simple

singular thing merely because we use a deceptively singular term to describe it.

Yet we see the problem with the above misguided means of observing 'thought'

immediately upon reading it (ie. we watch ourselves while we think). We are often

misled into believing that 'think' is very much like 'eat' or 'talk'. It appears that

some introspection is required to understand precisely how 'thinking' is different

from these other activities and how it should be treated differently.

Clearly if we were to use 'think' in the same manner as we use 'talk' we would be

misleading ourselves about the nature of thought. One example of possible

distinctions is that in order to talk we must also think whereas the reverse is not

true. Talking is also something we can definitely pinpoint in a specific physical

region. We use our larynx, mouth, tongue and diaphragm in concert as a means of
undertaking the task of talking. Thinking is quite different in that we have little

understanding of how we do it. Certainly we place the activity of thought within

the brain but the processes and conditions of thought are much more opaque than

they are for speech. Another consideration that Wittgenstein finds important to

describe is the outward evidence that a person 'thinks' versus, for example the

outward appearance of a person when s/he 'talks'. We can definitely know when a

person 'talks' and when that person does not, the same can not be said for the

activity of 'thinking'.

In discussing the meaning of the term 'understand' and upon realizing that it

appears to be an "indefinable experience" when compared to other less abstract

experiences Wittgenstein asks: "how do we compare these experiences; what

criterion of identity do we fix for their occurrence" (p112)? What Wittgenstein is

attempting to do here is to draw out the significance of mental activities as

compared to more mundane ones. Indeed his question is very pertinent. What

other things in our lives are similar to the mental concepts of 'understanding' and

'thought'? And to further question how we can identify or know (as a surety) that

a certain mental activity has occurred also seems very important.

Wittgenstein goes on in this same way to try and describe what it is for someone

to know they understand. Induction is considered: it is noticeable that we do not


use induction as the grounds for all our everyday reactions, we do not think things

out so explicitly. We do not use induction as the grounds for action, on the

contrary induction is so much a part of our natural lives that we are just naturally

inductive (p113). For example; we do not use induction as the means of a rational

argument with ourselves about how to interact with fire (ie. "Fire has always

burned me, so it will happen now too") (p113). In fact it seems that induction is

merely the natural reaction we undergo when interacting with our environment -- an

evolutionary symptom if you will.

The analogy appears to work quite well, when we 'understand' we do not undergo a

process of argumentation nor do we seek out a proof that we have in fact

understood we merely do understand. Are we then justified in knowing that we

have indeed understood? Wittgenstein's answer is that we are as certain as need

be, this is all the justification we require in our lives -- perhaps the question did

not need answering. Just as we feel perfectly justified not to touch a flame based

on a past experience we should also be justified not to question this particular

episode of understanding. Am I certain I understand? The question is not

necessary; I have understood, I do understand, I will understand.

Wittgenstein goes on in similar spirit to what I have described above, but then he

returns to the question of thoughtfulness and definitions. Returning to one of his


earlier questions, having resolved the question of certainty of 'understanding':

How to define that which appears to be an indefinable experience, or how to define

'understanding' and other mental activities? Wittgenstein leads us to reconsider

the value of all of these calculating and speculative questions. The concept of

clearly defined necessary and sufficient conditions perhaps do not belong in the

description or exploration of a term in common linguistic use. In the practical

everyday use of language definitions are seldom widely agreed upon or known, often

there are no real definitions at all.

To suppose that there must be [clear definitions] would be like supposing that
whenever children play with a ball they play a game according to strict rules (p
119).
Through remaining firmly planted on the ground we can be more accurate and come

closer to the truth through a use based exploration than through a highly

theoretical calculus. Remaining firmly planted in the use of language seems after

all much more appropriate than any amount of theorizing and calculating about

language. This point is very important to make: our language is use, it evolved as a

tool that has taken humanity far, to diverge from the practical is to diverge from

the realm of the appropriate (p119).

Describing the multifarious uses of the word 'think' is something we are not

capable of doing. The list of necessary and sufficient conditions that it would be

necessary to traverse and note could and would go on ad infinitum. 'Thinking' is


just too wide and varied an activity of human use to adequately describe. The

question that Wittgenstein attempts to make us face at this point is; why should

we be concerned with a description of the necessary and sufficient conditions of

'thinking' in its myriad of uses, "what is such a description useful for" (p123)?

And the naive idea that one forms of it ['think'] does not correspond to reality at
all. We expect a smooth contour and what we get to see is ragged. Here it might
really be said that we have constructed a false picture.
It is not to be expected of this word that it should have a unified employment; we
should rather expect the opposite. (p123)
Whence came the concept of thinking? It came; "From everyday language" (p123).

The answer of how we should understand 'thinking' should also come from this

source. The truly reasonable answer comes not from theory that is vastly

divergent from the realities of language. The truly reasonable answer comes not

from a cognitive urge to lay down every possible necessary and sufficient condition

-- these are beside the point. The understanding we glean about 'thinking' should

come from an exploration of the very conditions upon which 'thinking' as use arose,

the conditions from which 'thinking' is even now developing. These the unstated

and the unspoken means and conditions of development of 'thinking' are

encapsulated within our linguistic community.

These are some of the unstated and unspoken developments of 'thinking' that

Wittgenstein elucidates for the last few pages of this chapter: Humans learn to

use 'think' within circumstances of an everyday nature, circumstances that we do


not learn to distinguish (p124).

We learn to say it perhaps only of human beings; we learn to assert or deny it of


them. The question 'Do fishes think?' does not exist among our applications of
language, it is not raised. (What can be more natural than such a set-up, such a
use of language?) (his emphasis p124)
Forget the necessary and sufficient conditions here is something more important;

our use of terms is dependent on the circumstances within which we learned them.

Here is a very convincing dissolvent of philosophical conundrums and a view of the

study of language that appears most likely to succeed. Firmly grounded in use,

Wittgenstein demonstrates the superior position and greater sensibility of asking

the question: Why do we have to answer that question, what is the purpose?