Wittgenstein's Picture Theory of LanguageFor Norman Malcolm's Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir, G.H. von Wright wrote a biographical sketch recalling Wittgenstein's inspiration for his idea about language, that a proposition is a picture or model or mirror of reality.
Later he became engrossed in a new problem. It was the question of the nature of the significant proposition. There is a story of how the idea of language as a picture of reality occurred to Wittgenstein. It was in the autumn of 1914 on the Eastern Front, Wittgenstein was reading, in a magazine about a lawsuit in Paris concerning an automobile accident. At the trial a miniature model of the accident was presented before the court. The model here served as a proposition, that is, as a description of a possible state of affairs. It has this function owing to a correspondence between the parts of the model (the miniature-houses, -cars, -people) and things (houses, cars, people) in reality. It now occurred to Wittgenstein that one might reverse the analogy and say that a proposition serves as a model or picture, by virtue of a similar correspondence between its parts and the world. The way in which the parts of the proposition are combined – the structure of the proposition – depicts a possible combination oi elements in reality, a possible state of affairs. Wittgenstein's Tractatus may be called a synthesis of the theory of truth-functions and the idea that language is a picture of reality.In his Notebooks entry for September 30, 1914, he wrote
The general concept of the proposition carries with it a quite general concept of the co-ordination of proposition and situation: The solution to all my questions must be extremely simple. In the proposition a world is as it were put together experimentally. (As when in the law-court in Paris a motor-car accident is represented by means of dolls, etc.1) [Cf. 4.031.] This must yield the nature of truth straight away (if I were not blind). Let us think of hieroglyphic writing in which each word is a representation of what it stands for. Let us think also of the fact that actual pictures of situations can be right and wrong. [Cf. 4.016.] " " : If the right-hand figure in this picture represents the man A, and the left-hand one stands for the man B, then the whole might assert, e.g.: "A is fencing with B". The proposition in picture-writing can be true and false. It has a sense independent of its truth or falsehood. It must be possible to demonstrate everything essential by considering this case. It can be said that, while we are not certain of being able to turn all situations into pictures on paper, still we are certain that we can portray all logical properties of situations in a two-dimensional script. This is still very much on the surface, but we are on good ground.Wittgenstein's was not the first claim that a set of true propositions can contain knowledge of the physical world, that words can describe objects, but his Tractatus was surely the boldest:
4.01 The proposition is a picture of reality.Although language is an excellent tool for human communication, its arbitrary and ambiguous nature makes it ill-suited to represent the world directly. What Wittgenstein saw in the miniature model of the accident at the Paris trial was a dynamic information structure that was partially isomorphic with the information structure of the original accident. Such a model is completely language independent! It is sad that Wittgenstein proposed a picture theory of language, of language as a mirror of nature. As an excellent aeronautical engineer and architect, he knew that a working model is much more than a picture. He was very impressed by Heinrich Hertz's classic textbook The Principles of Mechanics, in which dynamical models played a large part. Wittgenstein might have anticipated our information philosophy, which is a model theory of information structures. Today our best models are interactive dynamic computational models visualizable as 3-dimensional animations of physical objects and living beings.
4.04 In the proposition there must be exactly as many things distinguishable as there are in the state of affairs, which it represents. They must both possess the same logical (mathematical) multiplicity (cf. Hertz's Mechanics, on Dynamic Models).But there is no mapping, no isomorphism of information between words (propositions) and objects (states of affairs). The extraordinarily sophisticated connection between a word and object is made in human minds, mediated by the experience recorder and reproducer (ERR) in the mind/brain. Words stimulate some neurons to start firing and to play back relevant experiences including the object. By contrast, a dynamic information model of a part of the world is presented immediately to the mind as a look-alike and act-alike simulation. Without relevant experience recorded in the mind's ERR, words are mere noise.
See more philosopher profiles at the Logic Gallery by David Marans
For decades, Anglo-American analytic philosophers and ordinary language philosophers have thought that the major problems of philosophy are problems of language and logic, that complete understanding of the natural world could be obtained through a complete set of logical propositions.
The aging Bertand Russell, worried about the failure of his Principia Mathematica project to derive mathematics from logic, saw in Wittgenstein the young, bright, scientifically-trained mind that might be able to establish a logical foundation, not only for mathematics but for all science as well. Over an agonizing seven-year period that included his military service in World War I, Wittgenstein wrote his brief Logische-Philosophische Abhandlung, named Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by G. E. Moore. In it Wittgenstein claimed to have solved all the problems of philosophy (at least all that could be shown in logic). Wittgenstein also claimed that such problems could not be said or thought (only shown), and so everything written in the Tractatus was strictly speaking nonsense (unsinnung). Everything that had not been said in the Tractatus, Wittgenstein claimed was his truly important work on ethics and the meaning of life. Despite the negative result for logic, Russell used some of Wittgenstein's work to rewrite Principia Mathematica. It was published as revised by Russell and Whitehead, but shortly thereafter Whitehead disavowed the changes, all actually made by Russell alone. To add to Russell's difficulties, Wittgenstein accused him of misunderstanding the Tractatus and misusing it. Nevertheless, there grew up around Wittgenstein and Russell (now not talking to one another) a school of philosophy that attracted a diverse group of European science-minded philosophers like Moritz Schlick and his Vienna Circle. Although Wittgenstein saw his logical philosophy as a failure and turned his interest to the therapeutic use of language – language as a game, this school of logical positivism (based on Wittgenstein's logical atoms) and logical empiricism (based on verification of atomic facts) grew to dominate Anglo-American Analytic philosophy for several decades.
Wittgenstein and Free Will
Ludwig Wittgenstein may have done more to inhibit discussion of free will than any other 20th-century philosopher. He declared the problem of free will and the mind-body problem to be "pseudo-problems," which were to be "dis-solved" by careful attention to actual language use. In section 5 of the Tractatus, Wittgenstein makes a number of statements that purport to describe the world, its future, and freedom of the will, all of them the consequence of propositions and what we can deduce or infer from them.
5. A proposition is a truth-function of elementary propositions. 5.1 Truth functions can be arranged in series.Wittgenstein asserts that truth-functions in a series are the basis of probability.
5.15 If Tr is the number of the truth-grounds of a proposition 'r', and if Trs is the number of the truth-grounds of a proposition 's' that are at the same time truth-grounds of 'r', then we call the ratio Trs : Tr the degree of probability that the proposition 'r' gives to the proposition s. 5.1511 There is no special object peculiar to probability propositions. 5.152 When propositions have no truth-arguments in common with one another, we call them independent of one another.
Wittgenstein On Identity
5.53 Identity of the object I express by identity of the sign and not by means of a sign of identity. Difference of the objects by difference of the signs. 5.5301 That identity is not a relation between objects is obvious. This becomes very clear if, for example, one considers the proposition "(x) : fx . HOOK . x=a". What this proposition says is simply that only a satisfies the function f, and not that only such things satisfy the function f which have a certain relation to a. One could of course say that in fact only a has this relation to a, but in order to express this we should need the sign of identity itself. 5.5302 Russell's definition of "=" won't do; because according to it one cannot say that two objects have all their properties in common. (Even if this proposition is never true, it is nevertheless significant.) 5.5303 Roughly speaking: to say of two things that they are identical is nonsense, and to say of one thing that it is identical with itself is to say nothing. 5.532 And analogously: not "( EXISTS x, y) . f(x, y) . x=y", but "( EXISTS x) . f(x, x)"; and not
Hypertext edition of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus in English and German (C.K. Ogden translation, with Russell introduction) See also our growing bilingual translation of the Tractatus with annotations.
Wittgenstein On the Good
"What is good is also divine. Queer as it sounds, that sums up my ethics", Monk, p.278)