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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

On Wittgenstein’s Picture Theory of Language

***Let's get back to brass tacks. I can't ignore the purpose of this blog indefinitely. So let me try an experiment. I'd like to throw out some of my...let's call it...scholarly work. This report is one of my all time favorites, a report for a philosophy class where I made the argument that the paper HAD to be given an A. Based on Wittgenstein. It got a B. Anyway, if this change in format goes over like gangbusters, I may dredge up some of my analyses of Kant. On the other hand, if hits drop down to five or six a day, we may just move on to LIBRARY OF THE DAMNED. Let me know what you think. (Dr. Ward, incidentally, was my Philosophy professor.)***

In German class earlier this week, learning about German history, my teacher asked the class what cuius regio, eius religio meant. I knew it had to do with the delineation of religion in the German provinces during the Reformation. Drawing on the minimal Latin skills I had acquired from my Latin class, I replied that it meant “the religion of the people is the religion of the prince,” to which she replied, “No, I think you’ve got that backwards.” I immediately thought back to my nominal philosophical training and got annoyed at my teacher. She had claimed that my statement was wrong, but in fact she was thinking nonsensically. “The religion of the people is the religion of the prince” is the exact same statement as “The religion of the prince is the religion of the people” because the “is” works like an equals sign. In a way, the Romans had one up on us because in their language, syntax doesn’t matter, because it’s a case language. In Rome, cuius regio, eius religio means the same thing as eius religio, cuius regio or any other combination of the four words. I think Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein probably would have liked Latin for that reason.

In any case, by the synthesis of my three courses, (and isn’t the synthesis of variegated subject matter the goal of education, after all?) I can say that the cuius regio policy of the German princes was a tautology. As I understand it, tautologies are true, but unnecessary to state, as in a=a. Wittgenstein believed that propositions of logic are tautologies. Because language is a form of logic, a logical statement about logic is unnecessary, though true. On the other hand he believed that propositions of factual language are pictures. This leads us to Wittgenstein’s picture theory of language.

I gather that Wittgenstein’s picture theory is how Wittgenstein views both human psychology and the nature of reality, although I think that he would not believe in psychology at all. Nevertheless, a lot of what he has to say is about how the human mind works, not as a result of chemistry and experience but inherently. The human mind makes pictures of facts. The picture is a representation of a fact, but it is in fact itself a fact, independent of the fact that it depicts.

For instance, moving flags around on a map is how we represent a battle, but the map is still a fact and the battle is still a fact. Mentally (I still say mentally, although I think Wittgenstein would say it’s not a mental process, but just a fact of reality) we combine the elements of our picture to represent the fact. However, it is not necessarily a perfect representation. I may picture a battle exactly as it occurred. Perhaps I was there and my mental representations are absolutely perfect. Still, my representation is a fact, but not the same fact. And, if someone tells me, “I was far away from my pretty girlfriend,” I may picture a blond because I equate blond with beauty, when, in fact, she is a brunette, and I may picture them as being in different countries when in fact they were only a few miles away, because my concept of “far” is different from the fact. But, still, he told me a sentence, or maybe wrote the sentence down, and the sentence has a physical form as ink on paper or notes in the air, so the sentence, too, is a fact, but not the same as my pictorial representation in my mind and not the same as the original fact.

How do the facts hang together to create representation? To address this I must now address form. Wittgenstein says that the combination of elements is the structure of the picture and the possibility of this structure is the form of representation of the picture. Wittgenstein regards form as the ruler against which we measure reality (but is not reality itself.) In order for a picture to be a picture it must have form, it can't be a random assemblage of facts. The important thing is that a picture has the identical form of the fact in reality. If reality has Wittgenstein hitting Popper with a poker, then the picture in my mind of that fact must have the identical form (i.e. Wittgenstein hitting Popper with a poker) even if the particulars of my picture are not entirely accurate (i.e. Wittgenstein hits Popper's ankle when in reality he hit his arm or Wittgenstein in my mind is fatter than he was in reality.) So form is what makes pictures useful in representing reality, hence Wittgenstein's comparison of form to a ruler.

I’m going to have to step back and re-evaluate my perspective. I’ve given a simplistic (and, considering the complexity of those last few paragraphs, it should be clear how Byzantine Wittgenstein’s work is) account of his analysis of representation in pictures. Let’s re-prioritize. Let’s talk about reality. Reality is the totality of facts, and therefore the totality of all true thoughts. If I have a thought, a picture, I must check it against reality to see whether it is true or not. Going back to my example of my friend who says he’s far away from his pretty girlfriend, let’s suppose I’ve made a picture in my mind of a blond girl in Germany. A cursory analysis of reality would show me that it’s really a brunette in Harrisburg. I could only really tell from analyzing reality, because, after all, if he told me another sentence to correct my original false one, I could make another false picture in my head. The only way to have a true thought is to check it against reality, not against other pictorial representations (i.e., spoken or written propositions.) Ergo, I can have no thought that is true a priori, because I have to check every thought against reality, and reality is only the totality of true thoughts.

(In fact, in a way, that negates this whole essay. Dr. Ward could be reading the ink representations on this page and think that each of my sentential representations was false. But, in fact, the problem is that he is forming inaccurate pictorial representations in his head, and checking them against the paper instead of reality. He might think I was writing a C- paper, when in fact, I am writing an A+ paper. In the interests of getting a perfect score on this paper, I must say this: reality is the sum total only of true thoughts. If this paper is a part of reality, it must be composed entirely of true thoughts. Ergo, it would be impossible to find fault with a paper that can not by definition be composed of any false thoughts if it is real, and my paper must, therefore, be perfect. See Appendix A. Or, if I may take another tack, if Dr. Ward finds any problems with this paper, as Wittgenstein would say to Russell, “you have simply misunderstood me.”)

Anyway, having employed philosophy both to accomplish a goal (i.e. get an A on this paper) and having furthered the interests of philosophy by developing my own new metaphysical law, based on Wittgenstein’s work (i.e., no paper can ever be imperfect) I regard this paper as almost complete. Only one further matter remains to be resolved. What were Wittgenstein’s general motivations behind this analysis? What insights did he hope to obtain? Primarily, I would say that the most important point Wittgenstein makes with his picture theory is that there is no a priori thought. This is not a novel idea, the empiricists had been defending it for hundreds of years. But it is the end, or the goal, of the picture theory, in my opinion. However, it is not the sum total of the picture theory. Just as in a+b=c, c is the result, but c does not capture the whole essence of the equation, so does Wittgenstein’s conclusion that there is no a priori thought not encompass the entirety of the importance of the picture theory.

The picture theory is the beginning of Wittgenstein’s attempt to break down conventional thought and replace it with a better method. What I mean is this: people have been thinking a certain way for thousands of years, and Wittgenstein sees this as a false way of thinking. If philosophy’s goal has been to attempt to know the unknowable, and science’s goal is to know the knowable, then Wittgenstein would say that there is no philosophy, only science and false propositions. Philosophy, then, in Wittgenstein’s outlook, is to only state what is known, and on the rest to remain silent. The picture theory is a vital factor in developing this view of the world. Facts as pictures, the checking of pictures against reality, and the dismissal of all false pictures – this is what Wittgenstein wants us to do. The rest is silence.


Tractatus Logico-Philosophocus II: The Wrath of Wittgenstein

8 Every scholarly report must be given a grade of 100%
8.1 Every report exists in reality
8.01 A report that does not exist, does not exist, and so can not be spoken of.
8.011 A report that can not be spoken of can not be graded
8.012 Even if a report is not turned in, it can not be evaluated, because it can not be spoken of
8.2 The world is a totality of all existing elementary facts (see 2.05)
8.02 A thought is a fact, whether true or false
8.3 A report that exists in the world consists entirely of facts, whether true or false, else it would not exist
8.03 Even if every sentence in a report is false, every sentence is a fact itself.
8.4 Evaluation is meaningless
8.04 Evaluation is a judgment, not a statement of fact, and therefore meaningless
8.05 In order for evaluations to have meaning they must be regarded as short-hand for some other fact
8.051 To give meaning to academic evaluation, we could regard a grade of 0% as shorthand for the fact, "This report does not exist."
8.052 To give meaning to academic evaluation, we could regard a grade of 100% as shorthand for the fact, "This report consists entirely of facts."
8.5 It does not matter whether the content of a report is false or not, it still must consist entirely of facts, and therefore must be given a 100%
8.6 A teacher who tries to evaluate a report as other than existent/non-existent is thinking metaphysically
8.06 Metaphysics are meaningless
8.07 A grade other than 100% for an existing paper and 0% for a non-existing paper is meaningless
8.7 This report exists.
8.07 This report must be given a 100%

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