[quickphilosophy] What are objects, and what is the form of an atomic prop?

  • From: wittrsl@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • To: wittrsl@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 3 Aug 2010 19:00:26 -0700 (PDT)

In Wittgenstein' s Logical Atomism, James Griffin says that one common view of 
what W meant  by "analysis" in the Tractatus is mistaken.  The confused 
commentators  have said that as W admired Russell's elimination of definite 
descriptions by  the use of bound variables, when he talked about analysis of 
propositions down  to ultimate elements, he must have been thinking of the 
Russellian model for  elimination of definite descriptions.  But Griffin points 
out that no such  expression as 

"(Ex) Fx and (y)if  Fy then y=x" 
can be elementary  because it contains logical terms, and, in any case, if 

is a problem of  ambiguity with respect to "the biggest guy in the room" it 
won't be eliminated  through by  Russellian analysis.
In Griffin's view,  W's propositional analysis is strictly analogous to 

analysis, and an  analysis of "the broom is brown" will start with such 
sentences as "the bristles  are brown, the broomstick is brown, and the 

are connected to the  broomstick."  It will in this way analyze "the broom" 

smaller and smaller  referents, just as a physical analysis would break down 

broom itself.  

As Griffin  understands the Tractatus, what's being claimed is that the 
multiplicity  of language mirrors that of the world partly because the most 
elementary words  (names) can designate only the most elementary objects 
(simples).  And, like  Leibnizian monads, no atomic object can be altered or 
destroyed, only moved  around and/or combined with others.  Similarly, on 
Griffin's view of W, no name  can be of any complex, but only of a simple 
object.  If that's true, it's  unsurprising that W couldn't provide any 

of atomic propositions.  

With that intro in  mind, here are a couple of interesting excerpts from 
Griffin's  book:
Every element in a proposition will be either a name or  defined by names.  But 
this means that descriptive words like `broom', `brush'  and `stick' will be 
defined by names.  But if names are of particulars, how can  they define 

words?  `Broom', after all, can be used to describe many  things, and how can I 
possibly give the meaning of this general word in terms  which refer to 
particular objects?  It would almost seem on the basis of this  that names, 
other evidence to the contrary, cannot be restricted to  particulars.  Now, 
however, we should see a way out of this difficulty.  I said  earlier that 
analysis explains that what I mean by `the broom' is `the brush in  a certain 
relation to the stick'.  What it explains, in other words, is what I mean on 
this occasion; I mean this brush in a certain  relation to this stick'.  And 
analysis is definition in this sense; by  moving from statements about 

to statements about particulars, I  eventually define what I now mean by the 
signs in the unanalysed sentence….
[S]ince particulars configured in such and such a way  constitute a broom, 

configured in such and such a way will say that these  objects constitute a 
broom.  The role of general words in propositions is, in  other words, taken 
over in the elementary proposition by the configurations of  its signs.
What Griffin  attempts to deduce from this is that no prop of the form Fa can 

an  elementary proposition.  In a recent post, I reproduced  this:
4.123 A property  is internal if it is unthinkable that its object should not 
possess it.  (This  shade of blue and that one stand, eo ipso, in the internal 
relation of  lighter to darker.  It is unthinkable that these two objects 

not  stand in this relation.)
and I mentioned some  difficulties it seems to engender.  Griffin handles them 
as  follows:
If a shade of blue can have an internal property, then it  also has a 

and if it has a structure, then it cannot be an object in  the strict sense.  

is called an object because it and a darker blue are  spoken of as standing in 

relation to one another, and speaking loosely we can  call terms of a relation 
objects.  So, at least when the "F" in "Fa" is a  colour, "F" cannot refer to 

object and "Fa" cannot be elementary….The "a" in  "a is blue" must therefore be 
complex.  A blue object is an object whose  elements have a certain structure.  
Now, this way of talking, along with W's  earlier talk of physicists' points as 
examples of simples, makes his account of  blue very close to that of physics: 

blue object is blue because its surface is  structured in a certain way, and it 
is blue rather than, say, red, because to be  red it would have to be 

[B]oth colours and shapes, i.e. what we see, and sounds, i.e.  what we hear, 
turn out to be analyzable….These are…good grounds for entertaining  seriously 
the idea that W thinks all `F''s in "Fa" are to be analysed away.  All  facts, 
it seems, are quite literally objects in some  configuration… .
In analyzing `the broom is in the corner' we pass through  several stages in 
which we talk of the brush and the stick and then, presumably,  of 
sub-descriptions of these.  The final stage comes when, leaving descriptions  
altogether, we mention only particulars.  Thus, names appear only in the final  
This means that a name will appear in a proposition only when  all the rest of 
the signs in it are names too.  This in turn, would seem to mean  that since 

propositional sign "Fa" has the sign "F" in it, which is not a  name, "a" 

be a name….Consider 3.221. `Objects can only be named'; in  other words, I 
cannot describe them; I cannot say of an object that it is an F.   3.221 does 
not say just this, but I think we can surmise it.  It does say that I  can only 
state how a thing is and not what it is.  That I can only  say how a thing is 
means, I think, that I can only say how an object  stands in realtion to other 
objects; I can only give its configuration with  other objects.
I think it's worth  mentioning here that the method by which Griffin—and, he 
says, Anscombe  too—attempts to make this interpretation of objects and simple 
props consistent  with 4.24 (in which W explains his symbolism) doesn't seem 
entirely convincing.   On the Griffin interpretation of 4.22, it seems to 
conflict with the simplest  reading of 4.24, which certainly suggests that 

are atomic props of the  form `Fa'.

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