Wittgenstein's famous theory: Here we are, exploring the type of work we get handed by our elites. In this case, we've journeyed all the way back to 1973, to Anthony Kenny's "lucid" text for the general reader with the one-word title:
Professor Kenny was and is a major figure. His book was published by Harvard University Press. In yesterday's award-winning installment, we perused the start of his treatment of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921), the early Wittgenstein's deftly-titled seminal work.
For yesterday's installment click here.
No one understands this book, Kenny basically said in the passage we've already reviewed. Agreeing to be unfazed by this fact, Professor Kenny began to explain the famous book's central doctrine:
KENNY (continuing from yesterday's text): The greater part of the book is concerned with the nature of language and its relation to the world, Wittgenstein's major philosophical concern throughout his life. The central doctrine it conveys is the famous picture theory of meaning. According to this theory, language consists of propositions which picture the world. Propositions are the perceptible expressions of thoughts, and thoughts are logical pictures of facts (TLP 3.5, 4, 4.001).Say what? Let's see if we've been able to follow what Professor Kenny has said:
Propositions and thoughts, for Wittgenstein, are pictures in a literal, not just a metaphorical sense. An English sentence, such as 'Elephants never forget' or 'John is taller than he used to be,' does not look much like a picture. But that is because language disguises thought beyond all recognition (TLP 4.002, 4.011).
According to the central doctrine of the early Wittgenstein, "language consists of propositions which picture the world." Plainly, so Kenny has said.
At first glance, this might not seem like a breath-taking concept. In fairness, with even a second of thought, we might realize that human language "consists of" more than mere "propositions." As the later Wittgenstein would note, human language also consists of questions, commands, ejaculations, jokes, insinuations, silly songs and a great deal of piddle and folderol.
"Propositions" are part of human language; they aren't the whole shebang. Having accepted this obvious fact, we'll go on to note that it's common to say that we humans "paint pictures" through our descriptions of various situations and states of affairs.
With that in mind, it wouldn't seem odd to say that propositions "picture the world," or are "pictures of facts." in a metaphorical sense. If anything, this claim might possibly seem a bit obvious, even a tiny bit fatuous.
Luckily, according to Kenny, that isn't what Wittgenstein meant! He didn't mean that propositions are pictures in a metaphorical sense. He meant that propositions are pictures in a literal sense.
Now we're beginning to worry. Does it make sense to say that a spoken or written proposition is a picture of the world in a literal sense?
A typical English sentence doesn't look like a picture, Kenny quickly concedes. But at this point, we're perhaps a tiny bit puzzled.
If something doesn't even look like a picture, in what way can it "literally" be a picture? So far, Kenny hasn't told us that.
"Elephants never forget?" Kenny is right in one respect. That elementary, three-word statement doesn't look like anything we'd typically call a picture. But according to Kenny, the early Wittgenstein said it was literally a picture. What could the early Wittgenstein possibly have meant by that?
We promised you humor when we started this seance. That humor will arrive on the scene tomorrow, when Kenny starts to give us examples of the way something which doesn't look like a picture can (literally) be a picture in the end.
In our view, an anthropology lesson is lurking here, a lesson concerning the intellectual ability of our own human race. Eventually, or so we'll claim, the later Wittgenstein came along and hinted at that fact.
For that very reason, Professor Horwich has said, the fellow has fallen from favor.
Coming tomorrow: Take this sentence, please!