Logical positivism

From Dikipedia

Logical positivism (later referred to as logical empiricism) holds that philosophy should aspire to the same sort of rigor as science. Philosophy should provide strict criteria for judging sentences true, false and meaningless. The most characteristic claim of logical positivism asserts that statements are meaningful only insofar as they are verifiable, and that statements can be verified only in two (exclusive) ways: empirical statements, including scientific theories, which are verified by experiment and evidence; and analytic truth, statements which are true or false by definition, and so are also meaningful. Everything else, including ethics and aesthetics, is not literally meaningful, and so belonged to "metaphysics." One conclusion is that serious philosophy should no longer concern itself with metaphysics.

Logical positivism was one of the early manifestations of analytic philosophy. It was the philosophical position of the Vienna Circle in its early years, and gained recognition in the English speaking world through the work of A. J. Ayer. The term subsequently came to be almost interchangeable with "analytic philosophy" in the first half of the twentieth century. Logical Positivism was immensely influential in philosophy of science, logic, and philosophy of language. Even though few of its tenets are still agreed with, its role in forming contemporary philosophy should not be underestimated; many subsequent commentators on "logical positivism" tend to attribute to it more of a singular purpose and creed than it in fact adhered to, overlooking the complex disagreements among the logical positivists themselves. Under this view, statements about God, good and evil, and beauty are neither true nor false, and thus should not be taken seriously. Positivism was the dominant theory of the philosophy of science between World War I and the Cold War.

Logical positivism took up the projects of Bertrand Russell and the early Ludwig Wittgenstein (who, along with Albert Einstein, were held up by the circle as the paragons of modern science and philosophy).

Table of contents [hide]


Critics of Logical Positivism say that its fundamental tenets could not themselves be formulated in a way that was clearly consistent. The verifiability criterion of meaning did not seem verifiable; but neither was it simply a logical tautology, since it had implications for the practice of science and the empirical truth of other statements. This presented severe problems for the logical consistency of the theory. Another problem was that, while positive existential claims (There is at least one human being) and negative universals (Not all ravens are black) allow for clear methods of verification (find a human or a non-black raven), negative existential claims and positive universal claims do not.

Universal claims could apparently never be verified: How can you tell that all ravens are black, unless you've hunted down every raven ever, including those in the past and future? This led to a great deal of work on induction, probability, and "confirmation," (which combined verification and falsification; see below).

Karl Popper, a well known critic of Logical Positivism, published the book Logik der Forschung (Eng.:The Logic of Scientific Discovery) in 1934. In it he presented an influential alternative to the verifiability criterion of meaning, explaining scientific statements in terms of falsifiability. First, though, Popper's concern was not with distinguishing meaningful from metaphysical (meaningless) statements, but distinguishing science from pseudo-science. He did not hold that metaphysical statements must be meaningless; in some cases, such as Marxism, he held that they were meaningful and had been falsified. In others, such as psychoanalysis, he held that they offered no method for falsification, and so were not science. He was, in general, more concerned with scientific practice than with the logical issues that troubled the positivists. Second, although Popper's philosophy of science enjoyed great popularity for some years, if his criterion is construed as an answer to the question the positivists were asking it turns out to fail in exactly parallel ways. Negative existential claims (There are no unicorns) and positive universals (All ravens are black) can be falsified, but positive existential and negative universal claims cannot.

Logical positivists' response to the first criticism is that Logical Positivism, like all other philosophies of science, is a philosophy of science, not an axiomatic system that can prove its own consistency. (see Gödel's incompleteness theorem) Secondly, a theory of language and mathematical logic were created to answer what it really means to say things like "all ravens are black".

Subsequent philosophy of science tends to make use of the better aspects of both of these approaches. Work by W. V. Quine and Thomas Kuhn has convinced many that it is not possible to provide a strict criterion for good or bad scientific method outside of the science we already have. But even this sentiment was not unknown to the logical positivists: Otto Neurath famously compared science to a boat which we must rebuild on the open sea.

See also

Vienna Circle
Rudolf Carnap
A. J. Ayer
Moritz Schlick
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Otto Neurath
Karl Popper

External links

Logik der Forschung in 1934 (http://cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/notebooks/logical-positivism.html)


Ayer, A. J.; Language, Truth and Logic, ISBN 0486200108

Bertrand Russell

From Wikipedia

Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell (May 18, 1872 - February 2, 1970) was one of the most influential mathematicians, philosophers and logicians working (mostly) in the 20th century, an important political liberal, activist and a populariser of philosophy. Millions looked up to Russell as a sort of prophet of the creative and rational life; at the same time, his stance on many topics was extremely controversial. He was born in 1872, at the height of Britain's economic and political ascendancy, and died of influenza in 1970, when Britain's empire had all but vanished and her power had been drained in two victorious but debilitating world wars. At his death, however, his voice still carried moral authority, for he was one of the world's most influential critics of nuclear weapons and the American war in Vietnam.

In 1950, Russell was made Nobel Laureate in Literature "in recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought".

Contents [hide]

Russell's philosophical and logical work


In mathematical logic, Russell established Russell's paradox, which exposed an inconsistency in naive set theory and led directly to the creation of modern axiomatic set theory. It also crippled Gottlob Frege's project of reducing mathematics to logic. Nonetheless, Russell defended logicism (the view that mathematics is in some important sense reducible to logic) and attempted this project himself, along with Alfred North Whitehead, in the Principia Mathematica, a clean axiomatic system on which all of mathematics can be built, but which was never fully completed. Although it did not fall prey to the paradoxes in Frege's approach, it was later proven by Kurt Gödel that—for exactly that reason—neither Principia Mathematica nor any other consistent logical system could prove all mathematical truths, and hence Russell's project was necessarily incomplete.

Philosophy of Language

Perhaps Russell's most significant contribution to philosophy of language is his theory of descriptions. It is normally illustrated using the phrase "the present King of France", as in "The present king of France is bald." What object is this sentence about, given that there is not, at present, a king of France? Alexius Meinong had suggested that we must posit a realm of "nonexistent entities" that we can suppose we are referring to when we use expressions like this; but this would be a strange theory, to say the least. Frege seemed to think we could dismiss as nonsense any sentences whose words apparently referred to objects that didn't exist. Among other things, the problem with this solution is that some such sentences, such as "If the present king of France is bald, then the present king of France has no hair on his head," not only do not seem nonsensical but appear to be obviously true. Roughly the same problem would arise if there were two kings of France at present: which of them does "the king of France" denote?

The problem is general to what are called "definite descriptions." Normally this includes all terms beginning with "the", and sometimes includes names, like "Walter Scott." (This point is quite contentious: Russell sometimes thought that the latter terms shouldn't be called names at all, but only "disguised definite descriptions," but much subsequent work has treated them as altogether different things.) What is the "logical form" of definite descriptions: how, in Frege's terms, could we paraphrase them in order to show how the truth of the whole depends on the truths of the parts? Definite descriptions appear to be like names that by their very nature denote exactly one thing, neither more or less. What, then, are we to say about the sentence as a whole if one of its parts apparently isn't working right?

Russell's solution was, first of all, to analyze not the term alone but the entire sentence that contained a definite description. "The present king of France is bald," he then suggested, can be reworded to "There is an x such that x is a present king of France, nothing other than x is a present king of France, and x is bald." Russell claimed that each definite description in fact contains a claim of existence and a claim of uniqueness which give this appearance, but these can be broken apart and treated separately from the predication that is the obvious content of the sentence they appear in. The sentence as a whole then says three things about some object: the definite description contains two of them, and the rest of the sentence contains the other. If the object does not exist, or if it is not unique, then the whole sentence turns out to be false, not meaningless.

One of the major complaints against Russell's theory, due originally to P. F. Strawson, is that definite descriptions do not claim that their object exists, they merely presuppose that it does.


Russell's epistemology went through many phases, most of which have since fallen by the wayside in philosophy. Nonetheless, his influence lingers on in the distinction between two ways in which we can be familiar with objects: "knowledge by acquaintance" and "knowledge by description." Russell thought that we could only be acquainted with our own "sense data," momentary perceptions of colours, sounds, and the like, and that everything else, including the physical objects that these were sense data of, could only be reasoned to--known by description--and not known directly. But the distinction has gained much wider application.

Influence on Philosophy

Russell is generally recognized as one of the founders of analytic philosophy. Alongside G. E. Moore he was largely responsible for the "revolt against Idealism" in British philosophy at the beginning of the twentieth century (which was echoed, thirty years later in Vienna, by the logical positivists' "revolt against metaphysics"). Russell and Moore strove to eliminate what they saw as meaningless and incoherent philosophy, and to seek clarity and precision in argument. Russell's logical work with Whitehead continued this project. Ludwig Wittgenstein was his student between 1911 and 1914, and he was responsible for having Wittgenstein's Tractatus published and for securing the latter a position at Cambridge and several fellowships. However, he came to disagree with Wittgenstein's later approach to philosophy, while Wittgenstein came to think of Russell as "superficial and glib." Russell's influence also lies heavily on the work of W. V. Quine, Karl Popper, and a number of others.

Russell's activism

Bertrand Russell was an outspoken pacifist. He opposed British participation in World War I and as a result was first fined, then lost his professorship at Trinity College of Cambridge University and was later imprisoned for six months. In the years leading to World War II, he supported the policy of appeasement, but later acknowledged that Hitler had to be defeated.

Russell called his stance "Relative Pacifism"—he held that war was always a great evil, but in some particularly extreme circumstances (such as when Hitler threatened to take over Europe) it might be a lesser of multiple evils.

On November 20, 1948, in a public speech at Westminster School, addressing a gathering arranged by the New Commonwealth, Russell shocked some of his less careful listeners by seeming to advocate a preemptive nuclear strike on the Soviet Union. Russell argued that war between the United States and the Soviet Union seemed inevitable, so it would be a humanitarian gesture to get it over with quickly. Currently, Russell argued, humanity could survive such a war, whereas a full nuclear war after both sides had manufactured large stockpiles of more destructive weapons was likely to result in the extinction of the human race. Russell later relented from this stance, instead arguing for mutual disarmament by the nuclear powers.

Starting in the 1950s, Russell became a vocal opponent of nuclear weapons. With the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs he released the Russell-Einstein Manifesto with Albert Einstein and organized several conferences. In 1961, he was imprisoned for a week in connection with his nuclear disarmament protests. He opposed the Vietnam War and along with Jean-Paul Sartre organized a tribunal intended to expose U.S. war crimes; this came to be known as the Russell Tribunal.

Russell wrote against Victorian notions of morality. His early writings expressed his opinion that sex between a man and woman who are not married to each other is not necessarily immoral if they truly love one another. This might not seem extreme by today's standards, but it was enough to raise vigorous protests and denunciations against him during his first visit to the United States. (Russell's private life was rather more hedonistic than his published writings revealed, but that was not yet well known at the time.)

The Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation began work in 1963, in order to carry forward his work for peace, human rights and social justice.

He was an early critic of the official story in the John F. Kennedy assassination; his "16 Questions on the Assassination" from 1964 is still considered a good summary of the apparent inconsistencies in that case.

In matters of religion, Russell classified himself as a philosophical agnostic and a practical atheist. He wrote that his attitude towards the Christian God was the same as his attitude towards the Greek gods: strongly convinced that they don't exist, but not able to rigorously prove it. His position is explained in the essays Am I An Atheist Or An Agnostic? and Why I Am Not a Christian ISBN 0671203231.

Politically he envisioned a kind of benevolent democratic socialism. He was extremely critical of the totalitarianism exhibited by Stalin's regime. But perhaps paradoxically, he was also an early advocate of social engineering:

The social psychologists of the future will have a number of classes of school children on whom they will try different methods of producing an unshakable conviction that snow is black. Various results will be arrived at. First, that the influence of the home is obstructive. Second, that not much can be done unless indoctrination begins before the age of ten. Third, that verses set to music and repeatedly intoned are very effective. Fourth, that the opinion that snow is white must be held to show a morbid taste for eccentricity.

...Although this science will be diligently studied, it will be rigidly confined to the governing class. The population will not be allowed to know how its convictions were generated. When the technique has been perfected, every government that has been in charge of education for a generation will be able to control its subjects securely without the need of armies or policemen.

-- Bertrand Russell, 1951, The Impact of Science on Society

Russell's life

A young Russell
A young Russell

Bertrand Russell was from an aristocratic English family. His paternal grandfather Lord John Russell had been a prime minister in the 1840s, and was himself the second son of the 6th Duke of Bedford, of a leading Whig / Liberal family. His mother Viscountess Amberley (who died when he was 2) was herself from an aristocratic family, and was the sister of Rosalind, Countess of Carlisle. His parents were extremely radical for their times; his father Viscount Amberley (who died when Bertrand was 4) was an atheist who had consented to his wife's affair with their children's tutor. His godfather was Utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill. His early years were spent at Pembroke Lodge in Richmond Park.

Despite this eccentric background, Russell's childhood was relatively conventional. After his parents' death, Russell and his older brother Frank (the future 2nd Earl) were raised by their stauchly Victorian grandparents - the Earl and Countess Russell (Lord John Russell and his second wife Lady Frances Elliot). However, Russell departed from his grandparents' expectations of him starting with his marriage.

Russell first met the American Quaker, Alys Pearsall Smith, when he was seventeen years old. He fell in love with the puritanical, high-minded Alys who was connected to several educationists and religious activists, and married her in December 1894. Their marriage was ended by separation in 1911. Russell had never been faithful; he had passionate affairs with, among others, Lady Ottoline Morrell (half-sister of the 6th Duke of Portland) and the actress Lady Constance Malleson.

Russell studied philosophy and logic at Cambridge University, starting in 1890. He became a fellow of Trinity College in 1908. In 1920, Russell travelled to Russia and subsequently lectured in Peking on philosophy for one year.

In 1921, after Russell had lost his professorship, he divorced Alys and married Dora Russell nee Dora Black. Their children were John Conrad Russell (who briefly succeeded his father as 4th Earl Russell) and Lady Katherine Russell, now Lady Katherine Tait). Russell supported himself during this time by writing popular books explaining matters of physics, ethics and education to the layman. Together with Dora, he founded the experimental Beacon Hill school in 1927.

Upon the death of his elder brother in 1931, Russell became 3rd Earl Russell. It is, however, quite rare for him to be referred to by this title.

An old Russell
An old Russell

After Russell's marriage to Dora broke up over her adultery with an American journalist, in 1936 he took as his third wife, an Oxford undergraduate named Patricia ("Peter") Spence. She had been his children's governess in the summer of 1930. Russell and Peter had one son, Conrad.

In the spring of 1939, Russell moved to Santa Barbara to lecture at the University of California, Los Angeles. He was appointed professor at the City College of New York shortly thereafter, but after public outcries, the appointment was annulled by the courts: his radical opinions made him "morally unfit" to teach at the college. He returned to Britain in 1944 and rejoined the faculty of Trinity College.

In 1952, Russell divorced Peter and married his fourth wife, Edith (Finch). They had known each other since 1925. Edith had lectured in English at Bryn Mawr College, near Philadelphia.

Bertrand Russell wrote his three volume autobiography in the late 1960s and died in 1970 in Wales. His ashes were scattered over the Welsh mountains.

He was succeeded in his titles by his son by his second marriage to Dora Russell Black, and then by his younger son (by his third marriage to Peter). His younger son Conrad, 5th Earl Russell, is an elected hereditary peer to the British House of Lords, and a respected British academic.

Preceded by:
John Russell
Earl Russell Followed by:
John Russell

Further reading

Bertrand Russell: 1872-1920 The Spirit of Solitude by Ray Monk (1997) ISBN 0099731312
Bertrand Russell: 1921-70 The Ghost of Madness by Ray Monk (2001) ISBN 009927275X
Bertrand Russell: Philosopher and Humanist, by John Lewis (1968)
Russell, by A. J. Ayer (1972) ISBN 0226033430
The Life of Bertrand Russell, by Ronald W. Clark (1975) ISBN 0394490592
Bertrand Russell and His World, by Ronald W. Clark (1981) ISBN 0500130701
Theories of Truth, by Richard L. Kirkham (1992). Chapter 4 includes a detailed discussion of Russell's theory of truth.

External links

Online writings

In Praise of Idleness (1932) (http://www.zpub.com/notes/idle.html)
Proposed Roads to Freedom (1918) (http://www.zpub.com/notes/rfree10.html)
Ideas that Have harmed Mankind (http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Oracle/2528/br_ideaharm.htm)
Am I an Atheist or an Agnostic? (http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/russell8.htm)
Why I am not a Christian (http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/russell0.htm)
16 Questions on the Assassination (of President Kennedy) (http://karws.gso.uri.edu/JFK/the_critics/russell/Sixteen_questions_Russell.html)
Political Ideals (http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/gutbook/lookup?num=4776)
The Analysis Of Mind (http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/gutbook/lookup?num=2529)
Proposed Roads to Freedom (http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/gutbook/lookup?num=690)


WikiQuote: Quotes by Bertrand Russell
WikiSource: Works of Bertrand Russell
The Bertrand Russell Society (http://users.drew.edu/~jlenz/brs.html)
The Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation (http://www.russfound.org/)
The Bertrand Russell Gallery (http://desktop12.cis.mcmaster.ca/~bertrand/)
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/russell/)
The Bertrand Russell Archives (http://www.mcmaster.ca/russdocs/russell.htm)
Immediate family information (http://desktop12.cis.mcmaster.ca/~bertrand/family.html)
Resource list (http://www.synaptic.bc.ca/ejournal/russell.htm)
This article is part of the Influential Western Philosophers series
Presocratics | Socrates | Plato | Aristotle | Epicureans | Stoics | Plotinus | Augustine of Hippo | Boëthius | Al-Farabi | Anselm | Peter Abelard | Averroës | Maimonides | Thomas Aquinas | Albertus Magnus | Duns Scotus | Ramon Llull | Occam | Giovanni Pico della Mirandola | Marsilio Ficino | Michel de Montaigne | René Descartes | Thomas Hobbes | Blaise Pascal | Baruch Spinoza | John Locke | Nicolas Malebranche | Gottfried Leibniz | Giambattista Vico | Julien Offray de La Mettrie | George Berkeley | Baron de Montesquieu | David Hume | Voltaire | Jean-Jacques Rousseau | Denis Diderot | Johann Herder | Immanuel Kant | Jeremy Bentham | Friedrich Schleiermacher | Johann Gottlieb Fichte | G. W. F. Hegel | Friedrich von Schelling | Friedrich von Schlegel | Arthur Schopenhauer | Søren Kierkegaard | Henry David Thoreau | Ralph Waldo Emerson | John Stuart Mill | Karl Marx | Mikhail Bakunin | Friedrich Nietzsche | Vladimir Soloviev | William James | Wilhelm Dilthey | C. S. Peirce | Gottlob Frege | Edmund Husserl | Henri Bergson | Ernst Cassirer | John Dewey | Benedetto Croce | José Ortega y Gasset | Alfred North Whitehead | Bertrand Russell | Ludwig Wittgenstein | Ernst Bloch | Georg Lukács | Martin Heidegger | Rudolf Carnap | Simone Weil | Maurice Merleau-Ponty | Jean-Paul Sartre | Simone de Beauvoir | Georges Bataille | Theodor Adorno | Max Horkheimer | Hannah Arendt
Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bertrand_Russell"
Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921) is a pivotal work in linguistic philosophy, and provides an important link between logical positivism and analytic philosophy. Wittgenstein's approach to the analysis of language permanently changed the course of modern philosophy.

Linguistic analysis is an approach to philosophy that uses the logical analysis of language to understand and resolve philosophical problems. According to this approach, the aim of philosophical inquiry is to analyze and clarify propositions. Philosophical problems are seen as arising from linguistic errors or confusions, and therefore recognition of these errors and confusions may enable many philosophical problems to be resolved.

The Tractatus has seven numbered sections. Each section consists of a set of statements or aphorisms, which are each given a decimal number. The logical order of each aphorism is denoted by its decimal number, such as 2.011, 2.012, etc.

The thesis of the first section is that the world is a totality of facts. The thesis of the second section is that facts are composed of elementary units, called atomic facts. The thesis of the third section is that thoughts are logical pictures of facts. The thesis of the fourth section is that thoughts are expressed by propositions. The thesis of the fifth section is that propositions are truth-functions of elementary propositions (which assign a truth-possibility to atomic facts). The thesis of the sixth section is that propositions may have meaning only if they are logical pictures of facts. The seventh section consists of only one statement, that 'whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must be silent.'

For Wittgenstein, 'the world is everything that is the case,' and the world consists of facts. However, if we confront questions in which it is not the case that we can make a logical picture of relevant facts, then we cannot formulate any logical proposition.

Wittgenstein's ontological viewpoint in the Tractatus may be described as a logical atomism. He argues that language and thought may be analyzed in terms of elementary propositions which represent atomic facts. Atomic facts are elementary facts which combine to form the structure of compound facts. Similarly, elementary propositions combine to form the structure of compound propositions. Language is the totality of propositions.

According to Wittgenstein, the world consists of the totality of atomic facts. An atomic fact is a combination of things or objects. Atomic facts combine to form compound facts. We perceive the world by making mental pictures of facts. A thought is a logical picture of a fact, or of multiple facts.

Thoughts may be expressed as propositions (i.e. a proposition is an expression of a thought). An elementary proposition is the simplest kind of proposition, and asserts the existence of an atomic fact. Elementary propositions may combine to form more complex propositions. Each proposition is a picture of reality. Each proposition asserts the existence or nonexistence of a fact, or of multiple facts. The totality of propositions forms the structure of language. The truth or falsehood of every proposition changes the structure of the world.

Propositions may be independent, if they have no truth-arguments in common. Logical operations may be performed on propositions. Denial, logical addition, logical multiplication, etc., are examples of logical operations. Logical operations may cancel each other, but cannot reverse the effect of each other. Compound propositions are the result of truth-operations on elementary propositions. Elementary propositions may be combined to form compound propositions, and compound propositions may be combined to form a logical structure of reality.

Wittgenstein asserts that the propositions of logic demonstrate the logical properties of propositions. However, he says that the propositions of logic are tautologies. A tautology is a statement which is self-evident, true by definition, necessarily true, and therefore is empty of information. Thus, logic may enable us to determine the truth or falsehood of propositions, but logic itself has no content and says nothing about the world.

According to Wittgenstein, logic reflects the world. Logic reveals that tautology and self-contradiction are not pictures of reality. Logic reveals the truth-possibilities of propositions, which are pictures of reality.

Tautologies and self-contradictory statements are not propositions, because they say nothing, they give no information, they are not meaningful. A tautology has no truth-conditions, because it is unconditionally true. On the other hand, a self-contradictory statement is not true under any condition.

Wittgenstein says that a proposition is an expression of its truth-conditions. The truth-conditions determine the range which is left to the facts by the proposition. Thus, in order to understand a proposition, we must know under what conditions it is true. If a proposition has no truth-conditions, i.e. if it is not possible to state the conditions under which the proposition is true, then it has no meaning.

The truth-conditions are also the conditions under which the proposition can be verified. To be true, a proposition must be capable of being verified. This is the verification principle of logical positivism.

Wittgenstein refers to metaphysical, ethical, and religious statements as "the mystical." "The mystical" cannot be expressed in terms of logical propositions. Concerning "the mystical," we cannot make any logical pictures of possible facts. "The mystical" is beyond the logical limits of language.

Wittgenstein views metaphysical or religious scepticism as self-contradictory, if it casts doubt on something about which a logical question cannot be asked. For doubt to exist, there has to be a question about something. For a question to exist, there has to be a possible answer. For a possible answer to exist, there has to be something that can be expressed as a proposition.

For Wittgenstein, the world as we perceive it is logical. Thought is inherently logical, and we cannot think illogically. Thought is a picture of reality. Every picture is a logical picture. Every thought may be expressed by a proposition. According to Wittgenstein, we cannot say what we cannot think. Whatever is illogical cannot be expressed by a proposition. Propositions may be true or false, but only by being logical pictures of reality. In order to determine whether propositions are true or false, we must be able to compare them with reality. This is how we structure our perceptions of the world.

According to Wittgenstein, a proposition is a picture of reality. A proposition has essential and accidental features. Essential features of a proposition enable it to express its sense. Accidental features are due to a particular way of production. Each elementary proposition assigns a truth-possibility to an atomic fact. Compound propositions are therefore expressions of agreement or disagreement with the truth-possibilities of elementary propositions.

Wittgenstein asserts that mathematical logic may be applied to language to determine if language is meaningful. He defines a proposition as a mathematical function of the expressions contained in it. A mathematical function may be defined by a particular operation which is performed upon given variables or arguments. The operation may yield a value of the function for the given variables or arguments. Wittgenstein distinguishes an operation from a function. He argues that a compound proposition may be a truth-function of elementary propositions, and that elementary propositions may be the truth-arguments of compound propositions. All compound propositions may be based on the results of truth-operations involving elementary propositions.

Wittgenstein also refers to semiotics in his approach to analyzing the structure and meaning of language. According to Wittgenstein, signs are employed in propositions. A sign is anything that represents an object or fact. A name is a simple sign which is employed in a proposition. A symbol is a characterization of the sense of a proposition.

Wittgenstein argues that a symbol has meaning only in a proposition. A symbol (or expression) characterizes the form and content of a proposition. A symbol may thus be regarded as a variable, whose values are determined by the propositions in which it is contained.

Wittgenstein’s Tractatus is an exciting and challenging work of philosophy. It contains many brief aphorisms which are striking and brilliant, but whose meaning is obscure, because many of the terms which are used are not defined.

Wittgenstein presents the theme that language is a tool which enables us to understand reality. In the Tractatus, his viewpoint is that the structure of reality is what determines the structure of language. In his later Philosophical Investigations (1953), he takes a different viewpoint, that the use of language is what structures our concepts of reality.

Copywright© 2001 Alex Scott

home page

Philosophy of language

From Wikipedia

Philosophy of language is the branch of philosophy that studies language. Its primary concerns include the nature of linguistic meaning, reference, language use, language learning, and language understanding, truth, thought (to the extent that it is linguistic), communication, interpretation, and translation. In its modern form it derives from the work of Gottlob Frege, and makes extensive use of modern logic and linguistics.

Contents [hide]

1 Major problems and sub-fields

2 History

3 Key issues
4 See also


We might ask, "what is a meaning?" Philosophers of language are in general less concerned with what individual words or sentences mean than with what it is for an expression to mean something, in virtue of what facts expressions have the meanings they do, which expressions have the same meanings as which others, and how these meanings can be known. (The exceptions, of course, are expressions about language, or words otherwise of philosophical significance). So a better question might be, "what does the word meaning mean?" In a similar vein, (and with similar caveats), philosophers are less concerned with which sentences are true than with what kinds of things can be true or false (sentences, presumably, but all sentences, or only meaningful ones?)

Language, meaning, and truth are important not just because they are used daily with important effects; language has shaped our human development, from our earliest childhood and continuing to the present. Many contemporary philosophers hold that it is impossible to have any thoughts without having a language. Still more would agree that there are at least some thoughts that one cannot think without having a language. Since we often or always reason according to rules laid down by our language, then the language we speak has a great deal of influence on how we view and respond to the world. Accordingly it is not by accident that philosophical discussions often begin by clarifying terminology, drawing distinctions between different senses of words, and so forth. The philosophy of language is important because language is important, and language is important because it is inseparable from how we think and live.

We each have a whole integrated set of concepts which we have associated with certain words like "object," "love," "good," "God," "masculine," "feminine," "art," "government," and so on. By learning the meanings of these words, each of us has shaped an entire view of the universe and our place in it. This is not to say that one's philosophy is only one's understanding of what important words mean; of course there's much more to it than that. But in arriving at a present philosophical outlook, questions about meaning play a central, extremely important role.

Major problems and sub-fields


Natural language



Though philosophers had always discussed language, it took on a central role in philosophy beginning in the late nineteenth century, especially in the English speaking world and parts of Europe, to the extent that for a time philosophy of language was virtually synonymous with analytic philosophy.

Frege, Russell, and logic

The turn to language is tied closely to the development of modern logic, which began with the work of the German logician Frege in the late nineteenth century. Logicians had known since Aristotle how to codify certain common patterns of reasoning: For example, the argument "Socrates is a man. All men are mortal. Therefore Socrates is mortal" is called a syllogism in Barbara. This is a valid syllogism, meaning that if its premises are true its conclusion must also be true. It can be represented thus: "All A are B. All B are C. Therefore all A are C." Frege (simultaneously with Boole and Charles Sanders Peirce) advanced logic significantly by showing how to codify inferences using Sentential connectives, like and, or and if-then, and quantifiers like all and some. Much of this work was made possible by the development of set theory. Frege used his new logic to further develop the foundations of arithmetic. He undertook to answer the question, "what is a number?" or "what objects do number-words ("one", "two", etc.) refer to?" In pursuing this he was led to analyse the idea of meaning, and saw that it could be explained as consisting of two elements.

Hence the sense (or intension) of a concept is what it attributes to an object; the reference (or extension) is the collection of objects that fall under the concept. The sense of a sentence is a proposition, or state of affairs; the reference is (confusingly, and still disputedly, but for good reasons) a truth value: "true" or "false." The referent of a proper name is an individual; the meaning of a proper name is a description that picks out that person (Russell thought something similar, although since the work of Saul Kripke almost no one holds this view now. Some, such as Gareth Evans, have argued that even Frege did not hold it).

Logic was further advanced by Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead in their groundbreaking Principia Mathematica, which attempted to produce a formal language with which the truth of all mathematical statements could be demonstrated from first principles. Russell differed from Frege greatly on many points, however. He rejected Frege's sense-reference distinction (though this is perhaps an accident of how Russell viewed language, and many scholars think he misunderstood Frege more than he disagreed with him.) He disagreed that language was of fundamental significance to philosophy, and saw the project of developing formal logic as a way of eliminating all of the confusions caused by ordinary language, and hence at creating a perfectly transparent medium in which to conduct traditional philosophical argument. He hoped, ultimately, to extend the proofs of the Principia to all possible true statements, a scheme he called logical atomism. For a while it appeared that his pupil Wittgenstein had succeeded in this plan with his "Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus".

Russell's work, and that of his colleague G. E. Moore, developed in response to what they perceived as the nonsense dominating British philosophy departments at the turn of the century, a kind of British Idealism most of which was derived (albeit very distantly) from the work of Hegel. In response Moore developed an approach ("Common Sense Philosophy") which sought to examine philosophical difficulties by a close analysis of the language used in order to determine its meaning. In this way Moore sought to expunge philosophical absurdities such as "time is unreal". Moore's work would have significant, if oblique, influence (largely mediated by Wittgenstein) on Ordinary language philosophy (see below.)

The later Wittgenstein and ordinary language

In 1929 Wittgenstein returned to Cambridge from Vienna, having concluded (with some persuasion from Frank Ramsey) that the Tractatus was not the end of philosophy, and indeed that it had serious problems. For the next twenty years he worked prodigiously, but as none of his work was published until his death much of his early influece was on his students.

This close examination of natural language is a powerful philosophical technique. Other practitioners have include J. L. Austin, P. F. Strawson, John Searle, R. M. Hare and R. S. Peters. Wittgenstein himself returned to philosophy after becoming aware that there was much more to natural languages than he had summarised in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. The result, "Philosophical Investigations", confirmed the central place of natural languages in the philosophy of language.

The Vienna Circle and Quine

Davidson and Truth theories

Perhaps the most influential current approach to the theory of meaning is that sketched by Donald Davidson in his introduction to the collection of essays Truth and Meaning in 1967. There he argued for the following two theses:

Any learnable language must be statable in a finite form, even if it is capable of a theoretically infinite number of expressions--as we may assume that natural human languages are, at least in principle. If it could not be stated in a finite way than it could not be learned through a finite, empirical method such as the way humans learn their languages. It follows that it must be possible to give a theoretical semantics for any natural language which could give the meanings of an infinite number of sentences on the basis of a finite system of axioms.
"Giving the meaning of a sentence", he further argued, was equivalent to stating its truth conditions. He proposed that it must be possible to account for language as a set of distinct grammatical features together with a lexicon, and for each of them explain its workings in such a way as to generate trivial (obviously correct) statements of the truth conditions of all the (infinitely many) sentences built up from these.

The result is a theory of meaning that rather resembles, by no accident, the account of the semantics of logic given by Alfred Tarski's semantic theory of truth: it consists of a recursive set of rules yielding an infinite set of sentences "'p' is true if and only if p", covering the whole language. Davidson's account, though brief, constitutes the first systematic presentation of truth-conditional semantics.

Kripke and direct reference

However there is still much that can be done by using formal logic to show how natural languages might work. Saul Kripke's analysis of reference is a case in point. Donald Davidson proposed simply translating natural languages into first-order predicate calculus in order to reduce meaning to a function of truth.

Dummett, logical harmony, and inferential role semantics

Michael Dummett argued against the kind of truth-conditional semantics presented by Davidson; instead he argued that basing semantics on assertion conditions avoids a number of difficulties with truth-conditional semantics, such as the transcendental nature of certain kinds of truth condition. He leverages work done in proof-theoretic semantics to provide a kind of inferential role semantics, where:

The meaning of sentences and grammatical constructs is given by their assertion conditions; and
Such a semantics is only guaranteed to be coherent if the inferences associated with the parts of language are in logical harmony.

A semantics based upon assertion conditions is called a verificationist semantics: cf. the verificationism of the Vienna Circle.

Recent Work


In 1950s, an artificial language loglan was invented that is based on first order predicate logic.

Key issues

Meaning and speech acts
Sense and reference
Meaning and intentionality
Meaning and truth

See also

connotation and denotation (intension and extension) -- definite description -- epistemology -- logic and semantics of logic -- meaning -- proper names -- sense and reference -- truth

Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_of_language"

The sea-change brought on by Wittgenstein's work in the 1930s centred largely around the idea that there is nothing wrong with ordinary language as it stands, and that many traditional philosophical problems were only illusions brought on by misunderstandings about language and related subjects. The former idea led to rejecting the approaches of earlier analytic philosophy--arguably, of any earlier philosophy--and the latter led to replacing them with the contemplation of language in its normal use, in order to "dissolve" the appearance of philosophical problems, rather than attempt to solve them. Ordinary language philosophy, also called linguistic philosophy is thus sometimes taken as an extension of, and sometimes as an alternative to, analytic philosophy.

Although heavily influenced by Wittgenstein and his students at Cambridge, ordinary language analysis largely flourished and developed at Oxford in the 1940s, under Austin and Gilbert Ryle, and was quite widespread for a time before declining rapidly in popularity in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It is now not uncommon to hear that "ordinary language philosophy is dead." Wittgenstein is perhaps the only one among the major figures in this vein to retain anything like the reputation he had at that time.

Central Ideas

Wittgenstein held that the meanings of words reside in their ordinary uses, and that that is why philosophers trip over words taken in abstraction. The metaphysicians can go home and relax now. From England came the idea that philosophy has got into trouble, by trying to understand words outside of the context of their use in ordinary language.

For example, what is reality? Philosophers have treated it as a noun denoting something that has certain properties. For thousands of years, they have debated those properties. Ordinary Language philosophy would instead look at how we use the word "reality." (Note: Willful oversimplification follows...) We say, "In reality...", but we don't mean that there is some special dimension of being. What we really mean is, "What I just told you only sounded right. Now I'm about to tell you the truth." That is, "in reality" is a bit like "however." And, "The reality of the matter is ..." serves a similar function in setting the listener's expectations. Further, when we talk about a "real gun", we aren't making a metaphysical statement of Platonic proportions; we are merely opposing this gun to a toy gun, pretend gun, imaginary gun, etc.

Important names in the Ordinary Language school include: Ludwig Wittgenstein, John Wisdom, Gilbert Ryle, J.L. Austin and Peter Strawson.

Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ordinary_language_philosophy"

Worried about security? Consider `The Handmaid's Tale'


The uncertainty is paralyzing the economy, and fear is paralyzing the public.

Some days -- the ones marked by orange on the terrorism alert spectrum -- it seems that Americans are caught in a novelist's nightmare vision of the future: ''War is Peace'' proclamations from a Ministry of Truth that lies (George Orwell's 1984). Disembodied computer voices directing every motion as we search in vain for the connection to a real person (Arthur Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey). All-terrorism-all-the-time news reports that urge us to watch our steps while security agents watch us watching them (Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange).

But those who believe that the danger to our future lies in enemies beyond our borders should heed another novelist's nightmare about a threat lurking within America -- the danger of right-wing fundamentalism.

Twenty years ago, Margaret Atwood spun a haunting dystopian fantasy called The Handmaid's Tale, about the transformation of the America of our era into a repressive theocratic nation called Gilead.

In Gilead, Eyes (watchers) and Guardians (police) keep people in line. Public entertainment consists of Prayvaganzas and Salvagings -- public hangings of the disloyal. Women are slaves, confined to burkah-like garments indicating their role. They are Wives (the highest status), Aunts (elders who whip young women into conformity in Rachel and Leah reeducation centers), Marthas (domestic servants) or Handmaids (women of child-bearing age assigned to households of male Commanders to have their children). Handmaids have no names or identity. The Handmaid who tells the story is known as Offred, which means she is temporarily in Fred's household.

The scariest part, and most relevant today, is Atwood's explanation of how this could happen.

After the president is shot and Congress machine-gunned, she imagines, the army declares a state of emergency and suspends the constitution. Islamic fanatics are blamed (Atwood wrote this in 1985). But the right-wing cabal behind the coup is ready with an engineered society implemented almost overnight.

Paper money is replaced by gender-coded credit cards. One day, all cards with an F for female are denied. ''That's how they were able to do it, in the way they did, all at once without anyone knowing beforehand,'' Atwood writes.

Women are fired from their jobs and no longer hold property. Clothing is burned, uniforms issued. Newspapers are censored or shut. Potential Handmaids are sent to reeducation centers where writing is banned (``Pen Is Envy''). Distant slave labor camps are worse.

Some women are willing participants in this oppression. They stay home watching TV, looking for direction. Roadblocks and national ID cards meet with approval, Atwood writes, ''since it was obvious you can't be too careful.'' And nobody wants to be reported for disloyalty.

Women are not the only victims of Gilead. Jews are given their choice of converting or moving to Israel.

Handmaids keep hope alive by passing secret messages, including a bit of make-believe Latin: Nolite te bastardes carborundorum -- don't let the bastards grind you down. But fear, inevitably, does grind people down, in real life as well as in novels. When fear reigns, people go passive, reject change and are willing to trade liberty for the illusion of security.

Today, women have the most to lose when right-wing fundamentalists believe that women's bodies should be public property. Foreshadowing Atwood's dystopia are attempts to force women to undergo procedures for the benefit of fetuses. In Pennsylvania, the Associated Press reported, Amber Marlowe, who had given birth to six babies weighing nearly 12 pounds each, was told by Wilkes-Barre General Hospital that her next must be delivered by Caesarean section. To force Marlowe into surgery, the hospital went to court to get legal guardianship of her unborn child. She used another hospital for an easy natural birth.

''Soccer moms'' are now ''security moms'' because of their preoccupation with the terrorism threat. Many are still undecided voters. They should read The Handmaid's Tale, to show them another threat -- that we let fear, garbed in bright orange, lead us too far to the right. That's the path toward Gilead, and the one away from the America we love.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter is a Harvard Business School professor. Her book Confidence will be published in September. Her column appears alternate Thursdays.