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A book report on Wittgenstein

Viewed 505 times 2015-12-16 18:06 |Personal category:essay|System category:Others| wittgenstein, language, logic

Wittgenstein’s chief disciple Norman Malcolm wrote that : “An attempt to summarize Wittgenstein's work would be neither successful nor useful. Wittgenstein compressed his thoughts to the point where further compression is impossible. What is needed is that they be unfolded and the connections between them traced out.” (Grayling , VII) However, this concise book aims to do on the contrary to the disciple’s idea, which proves to be well done. Considering the obscurity of Wittgenstein’s works, it might be wise to start with some easy books with fundamental philosophy knowledge for average people.

Wittgenstein is a famous master of the analytic philosophy in the twentieth century. He earned his name beyond philosophy. Not only was his character difficult and profound, but also some of his writings are treated as aphorisms for its wisdom.

The life course of Wittgenstein was truly extraordinary. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth in Austria. Naturally, the Wittgenstein's home was a centre of Viennese social and cultural life. (2, Grayling) His father was a successful industrialist who had been a rebellion young man ran to America to seek his fortune. Being a daughter of a banker, his mother had a taste of music and enriched the music ability of Wittgenstein. He could whistled entire scores from memory. In addition, religion had a deep impact on Wittgenstein’s life. Roman Catholic as he was, the loyalty made him decide to be a monk several times.

The former education experience of Wittgenstein was idiosyncratic, he was taught at home, which proved to fail later. He had trouble entering the school and university after 14. Setback as that was, he managed to enter a technical college in Berlin-Charlottenburg to study engineering, which he owned a talent. Three terms later, he went to Manchester University to study aeronautical engineering. However, while he was working on the design of a propeller, he became intrigued by the mathematics of the design, then by mathematics itself, and finally by philosophical. That was his road to philosophy. He studied with Russell at Cambridge by Frege’s suggestion. The days in Cambridge were the formative time for him and he developed deep friendship with Russell.

Unfortunately, he was taken as prisoner until 1919. Amazingly, he finished Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus during those years and got it published with the effort of Russell. Russell wrote the introduction as the precondition of the publication of the books. Bad as it was, Wittgenstein found his ideas misunderstood by Russell and got angry. The publication of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus was treaded as the end of his discovery toward philosophy. He thought he had solved all the philosophical problems and turned out to be a school teacher instead. His being a teacher was a failure since his severity caused complaints from parents. He worked as a gardener later and tried to be a monk. Unluckily, he was not allowed to be a monk for his inappropriate motives at the interview.

Gradually, he revived his interest in philosophy and found out that Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus did not solve all the questions at all. Meanwhile, he seek fellowship in the Cambridge University and stayed there till 1947. He went to Ireland and America after resignation. Eventually, he died of cancer in 1951.

After the detailed description of Wittgenstein’s life experience, here come his philosophical thoughts. He put the aim of his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by saying that we shall solve the problems of philosophy when we understand *the logic of our language.(Tractatus, 4) Generally, philosophy is the attempt to make thing clear and answer fundamental and puzzling questions such as the cannons of right reasoning. Unlike the scientific problems solved by experiments and empirical means, the answer to the philosophy problems needs conceptual and logical investigation. Wittgenstein said that the proper task of philosophy is to make the nature of our thought and talk clear, for then the traditional problems of philosophy will be recognized as spurious and will accordingly vanish. (Grayling, 18) He emphasized that the language has an underlying logical structure, an understanding of which shows the limits of what can clearly and meaningfully be said. (Grayling, 18) Considering the nature of language, he mentioned that what can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about, we must consign to silence. (T, p. 3). It could be put into this way, “There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what are mystical.” (T 6.522). Unlike other philosophers who try to uncover the fundamental problems, Wittgenstein tends to leave these problems there for there are not questions that needed to be solved at all.

     Whatever view he hold to the traditional philosophical problems, he put language at the focus of his study and he always tried to find out how language works. “More specifically, his task is to reveal the nature of language and its relation to the world, which in effect amounts to explaining how meaning attaches to the propositions we assert.” (Grayling, 19) It is the limits of language and thoughts that were his boundaries.

     Getting to know his ideas require knowledge of certain concepts. The first one to deal with is proposition. “It is something asserted or proposed for acceptance as true.” (Grayling, 19) Propositions can be considered as a declarative sentence, however, there are different. Proposition must be meaningful and non-idly used while sentences could be nonsensical. There could be only one proposition. Nontheless, this proposition can be put into different sentences just considering how many languages are spoken by people. On the other hand, one sentence may have several propositions for the people who say it change the meaning of the words.

Another thing we should notice is that the language can be misunderstood and cause philosophical problems. It is easy to notice that the language does not match thoughts. Therefore, much attention needs to be put on the language in case the proposition fail to comply with it. It needs emphasizing that the subject in a sentence might truly exist or is only an intention of our thoughts. However, Meinong argued that since a dryad can be intended by thoughts, her existence as an object of thought is independent of either of our acts of thinking about her, and that therefore she has a real existence even although she is not encounterable in the world in the same way as the table. (Grayling, 24)

Conversely, Russell tried to solve this problem by a conjunction composed of proposition since treating the subject as subsistence did not work out. He dismantled the sentences into three parts to confirm the correctness of them as a whole. This logical form seems much better and advanced.

Another proposition posed by Russell is truth-functionality. First thing to mention is Russell and his collaborator A. N. Whitehead’s variant of Frege's ‘concept script’ in Principia Mathematica. It is workable to entail conclusion from the premises and vice versa. For sure, there are certain circumstances that the conclusion is valid but unsound when the premises are false.

In deduction, some connectives including or, and, “if…then…” are adopted. The central idea is that the truth or falsity (for short, the truth-value) of a compound proposition depends wholly upon the truth-values of its constituent atomic propositions. (Grayling, 29) Connectives like &,v , ‘not’ are called truth-functors here. Still, quantifier expressions like all and some are employed to refer to the quantity of the subjects. Some can be considered as at least one. The letters and truth-functors are the elements of a language which, together, with certain rules of inference taken as primitive or axiomatic, constitute what is called the ‘propositional calculus ’. (Grayling, 31)

Back to the Tractatus, it is really a book with a wide range of topics from language to logics. A books indicates that elementary propositions may reflect states of affairs at some way. Elementary propositions are made up of names which denotes objects. “Propositions are formed out of elementary propositions by the truthfunctional connectives.” (Grayling, 37). It is worth noticing that two cases should be considered with care. One is tautology, it refers to the proposition that is true no matter what its constituents' truthvalues. Another is contradiction, it is a false proposition no matter what its constituents' truth-values. (Grayling, 37)

Just like what this paper mentions before, Wittgenstein thought that matters of ethical and religious significance show themselves; they cannot be stated. (Grayling, 38) The way he viewed the world can be stated as below. “World is everything that is represented by the totality of true propositions” (Grayling, 41). Form his point of view, world is the totality of facts instead of a combination of objects.

Interestingly, Wittgenstein mentioned that things in reality can be represented by pictures-that is, can have their arrangement displayed by the arrangement of a picture's elements


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