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Wittgenstein’s Methodology, the Augustinian Conception of Language, and Language qua Institution
1 People usually distinguish between two Wittgenstein’s: the first (Tractatus Logioco Philosophicus) and the second (Philosophical Investigations)
The Philosophical Investigations (PI) can be understood as a severe criticism of the Tractatus.
Wittgenstein planned to publish them in a single volume.
2 Philosophy as a therapy
“Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.” (PI: # 109)
“Philosophy, as we use the word, is a fight against the fascination which forms of expression exert on us.” (BB: 27) 3 Philosophical problems differ from empirical problems. Philosophical problems unlike empirical ones are solved by looking at the way language works.
Philosophy is a conceptual analysis. 4 So, philosophy of language is the fil rouge of philosophical analysis qua conceptual clarification. Hence, both Wittgenstein’s methodology (philosophy qua conceptual analysis) and his conception of philosophy differ from the methodology and conception endorsed by logical positivism, Quine, nowadays cognitive scientists, etc. 5 “Philosophers constantly see the method of science before their eyes, and are irresistibly tempted to ask and to answer questions in the way science does. This tendency is the real source of metaphysics and leads philosophers into complete darkness.” (BB: 18) 6 Moral
The scientific method (in particular the way of asking and answering questions in science) are misleading and inappropriate when applied to question like “What’s meaning?”, “What’s thought?”, and the like. The latter are typical philosophical (conceptual) questions which cannot be addressed and answered using empirical analysis.
7 Philosophy is conceived as a therapy enabling us to get rid of the “philosophical illness” we inherited. Thus, philosophy qua conceptual analysis should allow us to reject some of the traditional (false) pictures, such as the Augustinian picture of language, Cartesian dualism, etc. 8 Philosophical problems have (often) been induced by a misconception on the way language functions. As such Wittgenstein’s methodology doesn’t aim to propose solutions to classical problems.
It rather proposes a dissolution of the alleged problem.
9 “What is your way in philosophy? – To shew the fly the way out of the flybottle.” (PI: # 309) These are among the main reasons why the Philosophical Investigations do not present themselves as an ordinary book but, rather, as a collection of thoughts or aphorisms. 10 Wittgenstein’s criticism of the Augustinian picture of language is a good example of his methodology and his view of philosophy qua therapy. 11 The Augustinian conception of language Why Augustine? To stress the universality and force of the traditional picture. 12 The Augustinian picture endorses three main thesis:
1. every word has a meaning
2. this meaning is something correlated with the word
3. the meaning is the object for which the word stands.
13 So, ostensive definitions They are the fundamental form of explaining the meaning of a word, and, by the way, of learning a language. Basic picture
Words are names and sentences are combinations of names (cf. Tractatus: words name and sentences describe/picture, cf. Frege).
14 Name/object relation
If a word’s meaning is the object it stands for, then to assign the meaning to a word we ought to correlate this word with the object/referent it stands for. 15 Explanation of meaning
Either verbal or by ostensive definition. Since the former appeals to other expressions, the basic explanation ought to be given by ostensive definitions. For the latter furnish the relevant correlation between words and their referents and, as such, the foundation of language.
16 Ostensive definitions
In order to provide the foundation of language they ought to be complete and unambiguous. Since there are two kinds of necessary truths, analytic (truth by definition) and synthetic, ostensive definitions ought to provide the basis for synthetic necessary truth. E.g.: nothing is red and blue all over.
Within the Augustinian tradition:
(i) understanding consists in a mental association of a word with an object. This is a kind of mental pointing at an object. 18 (ii) acquaintance with objects. if ostensive definitions are the foundation of language, then acquaintance is the foundation of understanding.
(cf. Russell’s knowledge by acquaintance/ knowledge by description distinction). 19 The Philosophical Investigations can be understood as a criticism of the Augustinian picture. In criticising the Augustinian paradigm, Wittgenstein criticises most of the appealing theories of meaning: Frege’s, Russell’s and the Tractatus’. 20 Such a criticism begins with a clear examination on the way ostensive definitions work. The general lesson of this examination will be that ostensive definitions are not, pace the Augustinian conception, the foundation of language. 21 The use of examples
Wittgenstein’s use of concrete examples (e.g.: the building block language game, colour and number words, etc.) stresses the inadequacy of the Augustinian temptation to think of language in abstraction from its use. 22 Examples suggest that we cannot look for the essence of meaning as something which can be detached from the way language is actually.
See Wittgenstein's motto: meaning is use. 23 In the Tractatus Wittgenstein considers language as a calculus, or system of sentences. In the Investigations language is considered as essentially connected with the notion of application.
“Here the term ‘language game’ is meant to bring into prominence the fact that speaking a language is part of an activity, or of a form of life.” (PI: # 23)
24 Learning a language does not consist to master a calculus. It means:
Becoming acculturated. 25 Being acculturates amounts to being able to participate and interact in a variety of structured activities that essentially employ language. It means to be able to master different language games. 26 The Augustinian conception pictures a child learning his mother tongue as a foreigner learning a foreign language.
Like a person who already masters her own language and translates the new language into the former. 27 If learning a language comes close to translation, the child can already think: all she misses is how to label her mental concepts.
This picture presupposes what it tries to explain. For it assumes that the child possesses a mastery of the techniques that provide the necessary background enabling the child to understand the language.
28 Language as an institution Natural languages are system of social conventions
This conception is also defended by linguists:
Saussure, Sapir, Whorf, Bloomfield and by philosophers:
Wittgenstein, Dummett, Kripke.
29 The view of language as a social institution contrasts with:
1. The view of language as an ideal system (Frege, Montague, Church).
2. The view of language as innate, individual, internal (Pinker, Chomsky, Fodor).
3. The view of language as psychological (Grice, Shiffer, Searle).
30 Main questions
How does language qua institution can enter the physical world?
How can natural language be perceived as a natural phenomenon? 31 Can social conventions be explained in naturalistic terms? A naturalist approach to language tends to focus on the speakers’ psychology. This seems to contrast with the social conception of language. 32 Language (vs. idiolect) A praxis governed by syntactic and semantic rules and pragmatic conventions. (cf. Saussure’s langue/parole distinction). But the syntactic/semantic rules need not be social; they could be natural/psychological. Wittgenstein vs. Frege, first Wittgenstein, and Russell
33 Ideal language conception
Natural language is imperfect, improper (e.g.: ambiguity, polysemy, etc.). Logic deals with an ideal language. Natural languages aspire to be ideal languages, but they’re a mere copy of the latter (cf. Frege’s comparison between natural language and ideography).
34 Main features of an ideal language
(i) context insensitive (no ambiguity, no indexicality)
(ii) no polysemy (e.g. no terms such as ‘value’ meaning either moral value, money value, …)
(iii) no vague predicates (e.g. ‘rich’, ‘small’, ‘bald’, …)
35 (iv) an ideal language expressions would have a fixed meaning (e.g. wouldn’t change across time). Cf. eternal sentences
(v) no empty terms, i.e. each expression has a meaning (thus no ‘Robyn Hood’). 36 Fregean goal
Sentences of natural language should be translated into an ideal language. 37 To this view the second Wittgenstein opposes Conventionalism.
Language as a chess game, governed by conventional rules. What’s the meaning of the horse, the tower, …?
Can they have a meaning outside the game? … 38 ...
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- Philosophical Investigations