Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Wittgenstein - Seminar Summary

Ludwig Wittgenstein was a German born philosopher with a deep interest in the foundation of mathematics and philosophical studies. He entered the Austrian army during World War I and the notes he kept during his time in service formed the basis of his Tractatus, a book he wrote that explored the subject of rational thinking. Within the 'Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus', Wittgenstein explored some of the issues associated with philosophy and also the reasons behind how and why problems related to language arose.

Ludwig was part of the Vienna Circle, which was formed in the 1920's and investigated scientific language and methodology. The movement associated with the Vienna Circle was known as logical positivism. The group denied that any principle was synthetic a priori. A priori judgement is based entirely upon reason and is independent from sensory experience. It was also synthetic a priori that was relevant to the work of Kant, who I have discussed HERE

Vienna Circle was essentially anti-metaphysical. The groups stance towards the metaphysical world was due somewhat to their deep interest in the uses and applications of mathematics. The Circle's theories were constantly changing as they uncovered more about the sciences they investigated. Originally, the group met under the leadership of Moritz Schlick, a German philosopher much like Wittgenstein. Schlick was born in 1882 and doubted the use of metaphysical thought. He was based instead on forming a theory of knowledge based on empirical evidence and symbolic logic.

The groups manifesto stated that the Vienna Circle was characterised by two features: The fact that is was empiricist (assuming there was knowledge only from experience) and that is was distinctly positivist. It also said that the group were interested in the use of logical analysis. This was a method of clarifying and solving philosophical problems, making use of symbolic logic.


Wittgenstein (above) was born into one of Europe's wealthiest families

Wittgenstein made it clear that language was extremely important. He felt that one could not begin to construct an idea, concept or view without the use of language. 

Before looking at the points outlined in Wittgenstein's Tractatus, it's worth taking a look at some of the terminology used in the text. When Wittgenstein refers to language, he is discussing language that consists of propositions, which offer a logical picture of reality. The elements of a proposition are arranged in such a way they resemble the reality they represent. Wittgenstein also refers to 'signs', which he states are given meaning through their use in propositions

The book itself consisted of several 'main propositions' and hundreds of pages of accompanying footnotes. Below are the main propositions put forward in the text:

1) The world is everything that is the case.

Section 1 and 2 of the Tractatus deal with what the world is fundamentally made up of. Wittgenstein states that the world is determined by facts and that the word divides into these facts. "The world is the totality of facts, not of things", he writes.

This opening proposition within the Tractatus explains that the things that make up reality are to be considered 'simple object's. It's these objects that come together to form what is referred to as 'states of affairs'. Facts are existent states of affairs.

2) What is the case, the fact, is the existence of atomic facts.

In the second chapter of the book, Wittgenstein argues that nothing in logic is accidental. He explains: "If I know an object, then I also know all the possibilities of its occurrence in atomic facts". 

Wittgenstein says that an atomic fact is a combination of objects, yet these objects can't be compound because they form the substance of the earth. When Wittgenstein refers to form, he is simply describing the possibility of structure. He explains that we make pictures of facts and these pictures represent the facts in logical space. What this picture represents is its sense. In order to be a picture, a fact must have something in common with what it pictures.

3) The logical picture of the facts is the thought.

The third proposition explains that a thought is sourced from an individuals idea of a possible situation, bought together using logical justification. The Tractatus then explains the concept of 'forms' and 'propositions'. It states that a proposition is where an individuals thought is expressed perceptibly through the senses.

The proposition is also the sign. We use signs to help us communicate a proposition. Wittgenstein states: "Objects I can only name. Signs represent them". It is signs that we use to put across our views. We could, for example, do this using speech, writing or body language. 

One of the most important ideas that arises from the Tractatus is that propositions are logical pictures of fact. We conceive and understand something only when we successfully picture it ourselves. We do this if something relevant can be the case and we can conceive it. If we can do this, we form a logical picture.

4) The thought is the significant proposition.

All philosophy is a 'critique of language', Wittgenstein writes. The German philosopher explains how most questions written about philosophy are senseless. Philosophical questions and ideas concerning the metaphysical world cannot necessarily be proven or shown to be false. Propositions of logic don't picture anything, either. As a result, they do not have sense. In Wittgenstein's terms, they are senseless.

5) Propositions are truth functions of elementary propositions.

In the fifth chapter of the book, Wittgenstein discusses further the concept of complex facts and objects. He explains that what he commonly refers to as a  'states of affairs' is merely simple objects combined to form a combination of objects. He goes on to add that complex facts are states of affairs combined and that objects exist only in the context of states of affairs.


Wittgenstein famously stated: "Philosophy is just a by-product of misunderstanding language". Personally, I think this a fairly straightforward argument. It ultimately explains that people misunderstand language when they try to give something a form when it can't have one. Pain and the soul, for example, cannot take a physical form. The verification principle is also relevant here, stating that a statement is only legitimate if there is some way to determine whether the statement is true or false.

During the seminar we discussed the concept of language games. As people, we learn different languages through our interactions with the culture we are surrounded by. We adjust our language and actions accordingly to the situations we find ourselves in and the places we inhabit. In the seminar we identified a number of different language games. As journalists, for example, we have our own language game. Our time producing WINOL has seen us learn a number of new key phrases and terms in regards to our work. OOVS, Nat sot and NIBs, for example.

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