Early Wittgenstein and his Philosophy – Philosophy Notes

In “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus,” Wittgenstein presents the picture theory, which posits that early words refer to objects and contain a picture of those objects. The act of saying something is equivalent to showing it, and one can communicate an answer only through the pointing or direction of objects or things, utilizing words like “this” or “that.”

Language is a tool for creating a picture of a word and is a combination of names that assert something; its meanings are derived from the various objects to which it refers. Pictures are understood as actual states of affairs, and a proposition is considered true if it corresponds to the picture of the actual state of affairs; this is a one-to-one correspondence theory.

For example, the sentence “cat is on mat” describes a spatial relation between two objects. 

Wittgenstein’s epistemology and metaphysics can be summed up by the following points:

  • The world is limited to what can be expressed as facts;
  • Logical pictures of facts are thoughts;
  • Thoughts are propositions with sense, and propositions are truthful functions of elementary propositions.
  • If elementary propositions making up a proposition are true, then the proposition itself is true.
  • Lastly, Wittgenstein claims that some topics are unspeakable and that silence is the appropriate response.
  • Wittgenstein argues that every word denotes a name and object with meaning, and sentences are the combination of these names.

As a result, he contends that if we understand the words we use, philosophy is unnecessary. Wittgenstein claims to have resolved all philosophical problems with his picture theory.

Language is understood as a system of symbols where every word represents a name and object, and thus, carries a meaning. The combination of these names forms sentences, according to the early Wittgenstein. He argues that if one has knowledge of the words, then there is no need for philosophy. Wittgenstein presents his picture theory as a solution to all the problems in philosophy. However, several criticisms have been raised against this theory.

  • One criticism states that the theory presupposes a fixed setting of the world, which does not consider the contextual aspect of language.
  • Another criticism notes that some words may not denote anything, but they still have established usage, such as “hello.”
  • Language is not static, and new words are added, while old ones become redundant. Therefore, the richness of language is lost when it is treated as static.
  • Furthermore, Wittgenstein’s theory suggests that a proposition is meaningful only if it names an existing object, making several sentences meaningless, such as “Mr. Allen is dead.” Additionally, there is a challenge in determining the essence of a word in case of proper names, as with “Mr. Ashoka.”
  • Lastly, Wittgenstein’s picture theory does not apply to negative propositions, conditional propositions, or phrases like “something” and “everything.”

Despite these criticisms, Wittgenstein’s theory helps in understanding the organic unity between language and words.

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