[quickphilosophy] Hacker on “The Rise and Fall of the Picture Theory”

  • From: wittrsl@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • To: wittrsl@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 27 Jul 2010 16:25:53 -0700 (PDT)

 What follows is (i) my summary of some of the salient points in  Hacker's 1981 
paper; (ii) some excerpts from that paper on W's move away from the picture 
theory; and (iii) a couple of comments of my own.  I continue to use the 

font for my own stuff and the georgia font when I'm either quoting or nearly 
quoting (i.e., paraphrasing) .  I also continue to use "W" for "Wittgenstein".
The basic premises utilized by W to end up with a picture  theory of 
representation are:
1.  "Ordinary language is in  order as it is" though this might not always be 
readily apparent and might take  analysis to show it.  I.e., it is consistent 
with the laws of logic that require  bivalency and excluded middle.  Since so 
many ordinary language statements are  vague, this must be a function of 

proper names.  These must be handled  by the Russellian Theory of Description 
and the Fregean requirement of  determinacy of sense. [Why such changes do not 
amount to altering ordinary  language rather than leaving it as it is, seems 

to me.]
2.  The sense of a prop does not  generally determine its truth-value, so 
knowing what something means will not  generally require us to know whether it 
is true or false.  That a prop is false  does not make it meaningless.  So, 

makes a prop true can't be its sense  alone.
3.  Languages have generative  powers, which means that props must be 
composite.  Only if props consist of  elements can there be rule-governed ways 
to generate an infinite number of new  props out of existing elements.
4.  We do in fact understand  things—representatio n is not only possible, but 
It is isomorphism that is necessary to make 1-4 true.  If we  make a model of a 
state of affairs, the model will represent in virtue of being  isomorphic with 
what it models.  Elements of the model must stand for the  elements of what is 
represented.  This, for W, is "the pictorial  relation."
Models represent states of affairs, with the structure of the  latter 

in the way its constitutive elements are connected with each  other.  For a 
model to represent some state of affairs, the elements of the  model must be 
arranged isomorphically with the elements of the represented state  of affairs, 
given the appropriate method of projection.
A model is true if things are as the model represents them as  being; otherwise 
it's false, and to know whether some model is true or not, it  must be compared 
with reality.  

There must be an internal relation between a model and what  it represents 
whether it represents truly or falsely.  That is, the "logical  form" (or the 
multiplicity and combinatorial possibilities) of the model and  what it 
represents must be identical.
No model can represent its own (internal) relation to what it  is a model of—it 
can only display it.  Propositions are a particular type of  model and so, too, 
must have a logical form matching what they represent,  whether they are true 

false.  Their logical form is what is possible for them  to say given the rules 
of logical syntax.  

Hacker then says this regarding W's development after  1929:
In recent years  there has been a justifiable reaction to the initial 

of the  relationship between W's two masterpieces.  To be sure there is 

change  in his philosophy, but there is also profound continuity.  But exactly 
what  changes and what continues is no easy matter to discern.  This is not  
surprising, for if what W has done is rotate the axis of reference of his  
investigation 180 degrees [see PI, sec. 108] then the difference of the  
sameness, as it were, will be difficult to perceive….
W continued to  think that psychological features of thought processes are 
logically  irrelevant.  In the PI, he insists repeatedly that mental 
representations  and accompanying experiences are irrelevant to sense and 
understanding.  The  doctrine of avowals underlines the principle that it must 
always be possible to  distinguish being true from being believed to be true, 
and the private language  argument emphasizes the necessity of the distinction 
between being right and  believing oneself to be right.  So here we find an 
anti-psychologism, and  affinity with Realism, which, because of the criteria 
link neither involves the  Realist disregard for the conditions of possible 
knowledge as determining the  bounds of sense, nor slips into the typical 
reductionism of  Anti-realism.
Despite this  affinity, however, een the anti-psychologism is transformed.  In 
the first  place, it is no longer wedded to Realist dogmas—in particular the 
transcendence  (as opposed to the independence) of truth.  In the second, the 
boundary between  philosophy and psychology has shifted dramatically.  The 
Tractatus was  tacitly or explicitly committed to a host of psychological 
hypotheses about  arcane mental processes whose relation to reality was 

by language.   Thought, understanding and belief, although they had a logical 
structure similar  to the proposition, and contained unknown psychic 
constituents, were of no  philosophical consequence (except in so far as 
sentences like "A believes p"  threaten the thesis of extensionality) .  The 
assignment of meaning to  indefinables, the forging of links between language 
and reality, applying the  method of projection are all mental processes.  How 
they are done is a matter  for psychology; all that concerns logic is that they 
are done.  In the later  work this is repudiated.  The subjects of meaning, 
understanding and thinking  are essential to a proper grasp of the nature of 
language.  For the relations  between meaning that p, understanding `p' and the 
ense of `p' are internal.   Therefore no psychological explanation or 

can replace a philosophical  account of these relations….
This…leads to  the total repudiation of…the Realist dogma…of the irrelevance to 
logic of the  grounds of judgment.  The grounds of judgment, being what justify 
assertion,  constitute at least in certain cases, the sense of a proposition. . 

The grounds  are grammatically related to the proposition and tell us what 
proposition it is  (Zettel, sec. 437). …
In short, the  later philosophy replaces the Realist methodological principles 
by diametrically  opposed principles.  The bounds of sense and the limits of 
possible knowledge  must coincide.  We can squeeze no more sense out of a 
proposition than we can  put into one.  We can assign sense to a prop only in 

far as we can stipulate  the conditions which would justify its employment.  
Consequently the crucial  strategic principle that sense is given by 
truth-conditions independently of  means of recognition of truth, which 
dominates the Tractatus semantics,  is not rejected….[By the time of PI] the 
grounds for an assertion are  part of its grammar and tell us what proposition 
it is.  To specify the grounds  for an assertion is to explain its sense….The 
contrast with the picture theory  of meaning here runs deep….
Hacker's interesting paper concludes as  follows:
To be sure,  [PI's] answer to the great problem of the harmony between language 
and  reality seems, by comparison with the picture theory of meaning and its 
exciting  logico-metaphysical atomism, trivial, even uninteresting.  Madness is 
more  interesting than sanity.  But it is much better to be sane than to be  
I just want to add my own sense that the continuing fascination of the 

among analytic philosophers likely stems from an unwillingness  (which I share) 
to drop Tractarian doctrines regarding the independence of logic  from 
epistemology and psychology (as described by Hacker above) just because one 
wants to drop  the atomism and the picture theory of representation.   I think 
the "ordinary  language philosopher' s" use of "paradigm case" arguments and 

regular  rejection of the distinction between ratio essendi and ratio  
cognoscendi by W and his Oxford followers has been enough to cause many 
philosophers to look back longingly on the Tractatus with its clear  
distinctions between what is being said and why one is saying it.  

Hacker is right that is important not to yield to madness, but one  must also 

careful that the treatment not be as harmful as the  disease.

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