[Wittrs] [quickphilosophy] An Ontological Prop in the 3's

  • From: wittrsl@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • To: quickphilosophy@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Thu, 29 Jul 2010 19:39:17 -0000

3.328 If a sign is not used then it is meaningless.  That is the point
[Sinn] of Occam's razor. (If everything behaves as if a sign had
meaning, then it has meaning.)

I take it the "meaning" above means "reference."  But
this remains to me a highly cryptic prop..  I do think that to the
extent that one holds a theory of simple names of the sort W expounds in
TLP, you can tell what your ontology must do to satisfy Occam's
Razor. You will need to insist that the only things that (really) exist
are those that are named (by simple names).  So, to give a complete list
of "what there is" one must supply a list of all the nameable
objects?and nothing else.  The problem is that W doesn't give a
single example of an object.

It's a pretty theory, nevertheless.  "There's a cat on the
mat" will still make sense, even if it's there's no cat on
the mat in question.  But, on W's view, "Axelrod is on the
mat" will be nonsense if "Axelrod" is a simple name but
there is no Axelrod. So, "the cat" will make the cut only if
it's identical to some Axelrod or other.

Compare Quine, who says in "On What There Is" that to the extent
that the made-up "socratizes" can be used to dispense with all
sentences containing the name "Socrates" we need not count
Socrates as one of the indispensable elements of the universe.  The
problem with this version of Quine's thesis, as Alston pointed out
in "Ontological Commitment," if the analyses and analysanda are
true in just the same cases, whatever one is committed to the other
would seem to be as well. But Alston's argument won't work
against the tractarian view, I don't think, because, for W, the
sentence itself displays its commitments by showing which of its
elements are simple names (those that are senseless if they don't
refer).  If "Socrates" is a real name, "Socrates is F"
doesn't seem to be well paraphrased by "There's an X such
that X socratizes, X if F, and for all Y if Y socratizes then Y = X"
because it is simply a denial that "Socrates is F" is atomic.

Put it this way: Let "S is F" stand for a prop.  If it is
paraphrasable in the manner described above, it is NOT an atomic prop. 
But, using Quine's trick, any prop may be so paraphrased. 
Therefore, either there are no atomic props or the paraphrase does not
work..  But W spends a good chunk of time and trouble attempting to
prove that there MUST be atomic props (though he can't or won't
give us any examples of them).  If he has succeeded, then we know that
Quine's trick is defective.

What seems so paradoxical about W's ontological scheme here is that,
rather than pointing to science as the arbiter of what there is, he
points to meaning.  He claims that the very possibility of determinate
statements/understanding requires that there be atomic props.  But how
will we tell which props are atomic?? As I've said before, one of
the attractive things about the Tractatus is that it is so audacious.


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