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TWENTIETH CENTURY PHILOSOPHY: Intellectual Heroes and Key Themes

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1 TWENTIETH CENTURY PHILOSOPHY: Intellectual Heroes and Key Themes

2 LECTURES The limits of language. Death and authenticity.
The great community. Making differences. Social hope. Communicative rationality.


How to conceive of philosophy? 2. SEMANTICS AND PRAGMATICS What is the relation between language and reality? ETHICS AND AESTHETICS Are values of this world?


: Studies engineering at the ‘Technische Hochschule’ in Berlin. 1908: Research student at the University of Manchester. 1912: Starts to study philosophy in Cambridge. : Involved in World War I at the Austrian-Hungarian side. : Teacher at a primary school. 1926: Gardener at a monastery. : Builds a house for his sister Margarete. 1927: Contact with the so-called ‘Wiener Kreis’ (Moritz Schlick, Rudolf Carnap and Friedrich Waismann). 1929: Wittgenstein back to Cambridge. 1939: Becomes professor. 1951: Died April 29, in Cambridge.

7 MAJOR WORKS Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921 [1918]).
Philosophische Bemerkungen (1969 [ ]). The Blue Book (1958 [ ]). The Brown Book (1958 [ ]). Bemerkungen über die Grundlagen der Mathematik [ ]). Zettel (1981 [ ]). Bemerkungen über Farben (1958 [1951]). Philosophische Untersuchungen (1953). Über Gewißheit (1969 [1951]).

8 WITTGENSTEIN I & II Because Wittgenstein criticizes in his later work explicitly his early work, scholars speak in terms of Wittgenstein I & II. Wittgenstein I > Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Wittgenstein II > Philosophische Untersuchungen. Important question: what are the (dis)continuities between Wittgenstein I & II. At least there is a discontinuity of style.

Ordinary language Monologue Dialogue Results Roads

Philosophers saw words generally as spectacles we look through, not at. Mostly they perceived language as something that hinders a direct and therefore truthful understanding of the object of research. John Locke > language as “a mist before our eyes.” Nowadays philosophers see language not only as a medium, but as an object of research. Linguistic turn in philosophy > language becomes the object and tool to clarify and solve philosophical problems. Philosophers question the meaning of linguistic signs.

MENTAL ACTIVITIES LANGUAGE REALITY Example: “Berlin is the capital of Germany”

ONTOLOGICAL PARADIGM MENTALISTIC PARADIGM PRAGMATIC PARADIGM Domain Being Consciousness Language Object All that there is Mental activities Sentences, utterances Starting point Amazement Doubt Confusion Initial question What is? What can I know? What can I understand?

13 CONFUSION Language is often the source of confusion and misunderstanding. Continuity between Wittgenstein I and II > philosophers should clarify and solve problems. ‘Tractatus’ > “Philosophy aims at the logical clarification of thoughts. Philosophy is not a body of doctrine but an activity.” [TLP 4.112]. ‘Untersuchungen’ > “Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language” [PI 209].

14 HEURISTIC VALUE Mathematical Logic (Bertrand Russell amongst others).
Philosophy of science (Peter Winch amongst others.). Sociology (Aaron Cicourel amongst others). Psychology ( Eleanor Rosch amongst others). History of science (Thomas Kuhn amongst others). Aesthetics (Nelson Goodman amongst others). Political philosophy (Hannah Pitkin amongst others). Philosophy of language (Jaakko Hintikka amongst others). Music (Steve Reich amongst others). Literature (Ingeborg Bachmann amongst others). Fine arts (Eduardo Paolozzi amongst others).


16 SENSE AND REFERENCE The mathematician, logician and philosopher Gottlob Frege ( ) makes a distinction between the sense (Sinn) and the reference (Bedeutung) of linguistic signs. Although the sense of ‘the morning star’ and ‘the evening star’ is different, the referent is identical > both denote the same planet, namely Venus. The expressions ‘the morning star’ and ‘the evening star’ refer to Venus, but they express different ways of conceiving of this planet. Important questions: - Should the language of science (dedicated to the truth) as much as possible get rid of the sense and concentrate on the reference? - Is the meaning of linguistic signs only a question of reference? Whereas Wittgenstein I concentrates on the reference of linguistic signs, Wittgenstein II emphasizes the fact that people use linguistic signs in many different ways.

17 PICTURING THE WORLD Wittgenstien finished the manuscript of the ‘Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus’ already in 1918. Although everybody uses the Latin title (a suggestion of G.E. Moore) of the book, Wittgenstein himself spoke consequently about the ‘Logisch-Philosophische Abhandlung’. Written between 1912 and 1917 it was published in 1922 with a preface of Bertrand Russell. Tractatus > unfolds a picture theory of language. The reader of it should “throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.” [TLP 6.54]. 

The book is constructed around seven basic sentences, numbered by natural numbers, with a lot of paragraphs numbered by decimal expansions: The world is all that is the case. What is the case – a fact – is the existence of a state of affairs. A logical picture of facts is a thought. A thought is a proposition with sense. A proposition is a truth-function of elementary propositions. The general form of a truth-function is [p, ζ, N (ζ)]. What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.

19 DIFFICULTIES There are different reasons why a reader will have to deal with some difficulties when her or she wants to understand the book: 1. Although Wittgenstein states that the decimal expansions give expression to the logical weight of the sentences, he is not consistent. For instance, the importance of the following sentence is not expressed by the number given to it: “All philosophy is a 'critique of language‘” [TLP ]. 2. Wittgenstein’s pretention was to combine philosophical and aesthetical aspirations: “Die Arbeit ist streng philosophisch und zugleich literarisch, es wird aber doch nicht darin geschwafelt” (from a letter to Ludwig von Ficker).

20 THE STRUCTURE The Tractatus is structured around 8 related topics:
1. Ontology (TLP 1 – 2.063) > important because the relation between thought/language and reality is isomorphic . 2. Picture (TLP 2.1 – 3.5) > exploration of a subset of all that is: sentences, i.e. facts that represent other facts. 3. Philosophy (TLP ) > in contrast to science it expresses the logical form that language and reality share. 4. Theory of logic (TLP 4.2 – 5.641, 6.1 – 6.13) > shows that logical sentences are tautological. 5. Mathematics (TLP 6 – 6.031, 6.2 – 6.241) > is an aspect of logical operations. 6. Science (TLP 6.3 – 6.372) > provides concepts to describe the world. 7. Mysticism (TLP – 6.522) > ethical and aesthetical values cannot be expressed. 8. Throw away the ladder (TLP 6.53 – 7) > the Tractatus tries to show the limits of language.

The world is represented by thought, i.e. a proposition with sense. World, thought and proposition share the same logical form > thought and proposition can be pictures of the facts. The world consists of facts, i.e. existent states of affairs. States of affairs are combinations of objects. The object’s internal properties determine the possibilities of its combinations with other objects, i.e. its logical form.

22 THE WORLD The totality of states of affairs (actual and possible) makes up the whole of reality. The world > those states of affairs which exist. “The picture is a model of reality” (TLP 2.12). The logical structure of the picture (made up of elements combined in a specific way) represents the logical structure of the state of affairs which it pictures. Every proposition is either true or false. The limits of world, thought and language > what can/should and cannot/ should not be said.

23 IDEAL LANGUAGE Can we justly apply logic just as it stands straightaway to ordinary propositions? ‘Tractatus’: yes > “In fact, all the propositions of our everyday language, just as they stand, are in perfect logical order” (TLP ). A logically perfect language has rules of syntax which prevent nonsense, and has single symbols which always have a definite and unique meaning.

24 TAUTOLOGY Wittgenstein was interested in propositions of logic.
Focus > propositions of logic seen from the perspective of the essence of reference. Language and reality share the same logical form. Wittgenstein argues that propositions of logic are tautological > they don’t say anything about the reality. “…in fact all the propositions of logic say the same thing, to wit nothing” [TLP 5.43].  In contrast to propositions of logic > ordinary propositions picture possible state of affairs.

The main goal of the philosophy of language > to clarify and solve problems via the analysis of language. Ways to do that: 1. To use a formal language (mathematical logic) to clarify and solve the problems induced by ordinary language > Tractatus. 2. To concentrate on ordinary language > Philosophical Investigations . In the preface of the Philosophical Investigations he states that the Tractatus consists of ‘huge mistakes’ (schwere Irrtümer).

Wittgenstein criticizes in Philosophical Investigations the ideal of exactness. The ideal of exactness is senseless, because no statement we might analyze acutally possesses such precision (PI 70). No conceivable purpose requires it (PI 80). Ordinary language is in order as it is, not because wonderful precision and constancy lie beneath its surface, but because such ideal qualities are irrelevant to the actual purposes of speech.

Wittgenstein starts his Philosophical Investigations with a critique on Augustine’s conception of language. This conception of languages is based on five presuppositions: 1. Every single word has a meaning. 2. All the words are names, i.e. they stand for objects. 3. The meaning of a word is the object for that it stood. 4. The connection between words (names) and their meanings (objects) is the outcome of a ostensive definition that triggers a mental association between word and object. 5. Sentences are connections of names.

Augustine’s conception of language has two implications: 1.The only function of language is to represent reality: words refer and sentences describe. 2.A child must have already a private language before it understands the public language, because it learns a language by making associations between words and objects. These implications are the object of Wittgenstein’s criticism.

The study of language-games and thus forms of life helps Wittgenstein to criticize Augustine’s conception of language. Linguistic signs don’t have meaning in virtue of being a picture (as Augustine suggests), but in virtue of the way they are used within a specific language-game. Language-games are rule-bound ways of using linguistic signs. They are based upon rules with a conventional and public character. Wittgenstein conceives language as a game to stress its rule-bound character, its embeddings in communities and the connection between linguistic and non-linguistic activities > it is a form of life. In order to grasp the meaning of linguistic signs one should not look for objects they refer to, but should study the diversity of their use in language-games. Wittgenstein presents language as a tool bag > like a hammer, square and gluepot words have a multiplicity of different uses.

30 CONTRA METAPHYSICS Wittgenstein relates semantics (study of the meaning of linguistic signs) and pragmatics (the study of the use of linguistic signs). This helps him to overcome metaphysics, i.e. the believe that “the essence is hidden from us” (PI 92). Targets of the ‘Tractatus’ > precision and essence. Wittgenstein aks: “If there is no essence why do we use the same word to all these things?”

31 LOOKING FOR AN ESSENCE A number of philosophical problems are closely related to the essence issue > questions of abstraction and mental representation; the possibility of definition; the distinction between symptoms and criteria. Once we observe the structure of a concept like language we see “that phenomena have no one thing in common which makes us use the same word for all, - but that they are related to one another in many different ways. And it is because of this relationship, or these relations, that we call them all ‘language’” (PI 65).

32 FAMILY RESEMBLANCE Wittgenstein introduces the concept of family resemblance in order to get rid of any form of essentialism. Elements that are often subsumed under a general concept, don’t need to have something in common > “they form a family the members of which have family likeness. Some of them have the same nose, others the same eyebrows and others again the same way of walking; and these likenesses overlap. The idea of a general concept being a common property of its particular instances connects up with other primitive, too simple, ideas of the structure of language” (from the Blue Book). Wittgenstein did not deny merely that games or statements have something in common. He wants to eliminate a priori generalizations.

‘Private language’ is a new notion introduced by Wittgenstein. What is the motive to introduce this notion? A not articulated reliance on the possibility of a private language is arguably essential to mainstream epistemology, philosophy of mind and metaphysics from Descartes to versions of the representational theory of mind which became prominent in cognitive science.

34 PRIVATE LANGUAGE A private language is not a personal code.
It is also not a language of one person. “The individual words of his language are to refer to what can only be known to the person speaking; to his immediate private sensations” [PI 243]. One can follow a rule privately. A language conceived as necessarily comprehensible only to its single originator because the things define its vocabulary are necessarily inaccessible to others.

35 PRIVATE SENSATIONS In fact Wittgenstein criticizes the mentalistic paradigm founded by Descartes. Basic mentalistic idea: “Sensations are private” [PI 248] Mentalistic paradigm > presupposes that sensations are like things in a box. Wittgenstein shows that one cannot grasp these sensations via ostensive definitions and that the criteria for the right use of words to describe them cannot be private.

Wittgenstein formulates two arguments against the idea of a private language: 1.Ostensive definitions don’t make sense > there is no possibility for corrections, questions and answers to exclude misunderstanding. 2.We need criteria to talk about the rightness of an action > a public control is not possible.

37 “S” “Let us imagine the following case. I want to keep a diary about the recurrence of a certain sensation. – I will remark first of all that a definition of the sign cannot be formulated – But still I can give myself a kind of ostensive definition. – How? Can I point to the sensation? Not in the ordinary sense. But I speak, or write the sign down, and at the same time I concentrate my attention on the sensation and so as it were, point to it inwardly. – But what is this ceremony for? For that is all it seems to be! A definition surely serves to establish the meaning of a sign. Well that is done precisely by the concentrating of my attention; for in this way I impress on myself the connexion between the sign and the sensation. – But “I impress it on myself” can only mean: this process brings it about that I remember the connexion right in the future. But in the present case I have no criterion of correctness. One would like to say: whatever is going to seem right to me is right. And that only means that here we can’t talk about ‘right’” [PI 258]


39 THE GOOD LIFE Wittgenstein triggered many debates about ethics and aesthetics, i.e. the good life. Wittgenstein I: one can only speak about ethical and aesthetical issues form the perspective of eternity (sub specie aeternitatis). “Das Kunstwerk ist der Gegenstand sub specie aeternitatis gesehen; und das gute Leben ist die Welt sub specie aeternitatis gesehen. Das ist er Zusammenhang zwischen Kunst und Ethik” (TGB 178). “It is clear that ethics cannot be put into words. Ethics is transcendental. (Ethics and aesthetics are one and the same.)” [TLP 6.421].

40 WHAT CANNOT BE SAID Wittgenstein’s ethical reflections have an autobiographical background: the struggle to be decent, i.e. overcoming vanity and dishonest. ‘The Gospel in brief’ (1890) written by Leo Tolstoy ( ) inspired Wittgenstein very much. Tolstoy criticized nihilism and the church with its rituals > concentration on the innermost being. Wittgenstein > ethics and aesthetics don’t belong to this world. “Ethics, if it is anything, is supernatural and our words will only express facts”. The distinction between saying and showing > beyond what can be said in sensical propositions there are things that can only be shown [TLP ].

41 LIMITS Ethics is running up the limits of language, because of the attempt to say something that cannot be said. Wittgenstein distinguishes in his ‘Lecture on Ethics’ (1929) two kinds of statements: 1. Relative statements > can be justified by referring to facts which inform these judgements. 2. Absolute statements > “no statement of fact can ever be, or imply, a judgment of absolute value”.

42 DUTY TO ONESELF Wittgenstein argues that the meaning of life cannot be found in the external world, but in the internal world. Mysticism > the soul is more important than the body. “Don’t be dependent on the external world an then you have no fear of what happens in it… It is x times easier to be independent of things than to be independent of people. But one must be capable of that as well.”

43 ART Wittgenstein is also inspired by Tolstoy’s ‘What is Art?’.
Good art gives expression to the feelings and esthetical convictions of a certain way of life. Respect for the common man > art should be intelligible to everyone. Wittgenstein’s aesthetical ideal > clarity. Example > the house he developed and build for his sister Margarete.

The perception of art is related to a form of life, i.e. a specific culture. Every form of life makes you see some things. However, it makes you also to a certain extent blind. Wittgenstein’s ideas about aspect-seeing are not only important for aesthetics, but also for a philosophy of culture. There are two possible answers to the question: what do you see? 1. I see that > a description. 2. I see it as > a resemblance.

45 ASPECT-SEEING The figure can be seen under more than one aspect: as a duck and as a rabbit. One will see always the same line > the picture and the visual impression didn’t change. An aspect is not an attribute of the object.

46 BLIND SPOTS A person who always sees a duck is blind for an aspect that one can see. Philosophers are interested in blind spots. Wittgenstein introduced the concept aspect-blindness. Aspect-blindness: - is not insensibility to optical impressions. - it is the inability to understand optical impressions > loss of associations between optical sensations and what they signify.

Wittgenstein raises the question: what is it to understand a work of art? Understanding art - is not a question of specific mental activities. - is not a question of a particular perception of the attributes of piece of art. It is a question of talking and writing in a certain way about works of art > drawing the attention on certain aspects. For instance, if one says “You have to phrase it so…” or “If you see it so, you would…”

In order to see an aspect of a work of art it is important to contextualize it. The layman who doesn’t understand a lot of art only uses predicates like ‘beautiful’ or ‘gorgeous’, whereas the art connoisseur knows how to enlighten certain aspects of a work of art. Both are into different language-games. Understanding art depends on certain rule-bound language-games.

49 RECOMMENDED Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations.
Ray Monk, Wittgenstein. The Duty of Genius. Derek Jarman, Wittgenstein [Movie].

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