You are on page 1of 10




Prepared for For Professor STANLEY CLARKE for course32.310. Written by: critical (on 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. expect to have. This is the only grasp on reality we can

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?