[Wittrs] [quickphilosophy] Anscombe on Tractarian epistemology & its incompatibility with verificationism

  • From: wittrsl@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • To: quickphilosophy@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 10 Aug 2010 14:30:23 -0000

The following is alengthy excerpt (pp. 152-154) from Anscombe's
Introduction to W's Tractatus. I apologize in advance for the
inevitable typos.

`Psychology is no more akin to philosophy than any other natural
science.  Theory of knowledge is the philosophy of psychology'
(4.1121). In this passage W is trying to break the dictatorial control
over the rest of philosophy that had long been exercised by what is
called theory of knowledge?that is, by the philosophy of
sensation,perception, imagination, and, generally, of
`experience'.  He did not succeed.  He and Frege avoided making
theory ofknowledge the cardinal theory of philosophy simply by cutting
it dead; by doingnone, and concentrating on the philosophy of logic. 
But the influence of the Tractatus produced logical positivism, whose
main doctrine is `verificationism'; and in that doctrine theory
of knowledge once more reigned supreme, and a prominent position was
given to the test of significance by asking for theobservations that
would verify a statement. (Further, in the period between the Tractatus
and the time when he began to write Philosophical Investigations,
W's own ideas were more closely akin to those of the logical
positivists than before or after.)

We can see how the Tractatus generated logical positivism, although the
two philosophies are incompatible,by studing Mortiz Schlick's essay,
"Meaning and Verification": `Whenever we ask about a
sentence, "What does it mean?" what we expect is instruction as
to the circumstances in which the sentence is to be used; we want a
description of the conditions under which the sentence will form a true
proposition, and of the those which will make it false.' Here
Schlick seems to follow the Tractatus, except in the last clause of his
statement: the Tractatus says that I `determine the sense of a
proposition by `determining in what circumstances I call it true;
(4.063). (It is implicit in this that the `circumstances I question
may hold or not hold;for it is an essential part of the picture theory
that a proposition which heldin all circumstances would not have
`sense': it would lack TF poles.)

Schlick class the `description of the conditions; under which a word
has application, or a sentence is true, the ;rules for the use; of the
word or sentence.  These `rules' will consist partly of
`ostensive definitions', of which the simplest form will be a
pointing gesture combined with the pronouncing of the word; this can be
done with words like `blue'.  For words like
`immediate',`chance', `because',
`again', Schlick says, the ostensive definition is of a more
complicated kind: `in these cases we require the presence of certain
complex situations, and the meaning of the words is defined by the way
we use them in these different situations.'  Allrules for use
`ultimately point of ostensive definitions'.  `This,'
Schlick says, `is the situation, and nothing seems to me simpler or
less questionable.  It is this situation and nothing else that we
describe when we affirm that the meaning of a proposition can be given
only by giving the rules of its verification in experience.  (The
addition "in experience" is really superfluous, as no other kind
of verification has been defined.)'

This shews us the transition from the Tractatus to
`verificationism' very clearly.  What Schlick says leads
immediately (a) to the quick test for significance: `What experience
would verify this?' and (b) to the maintenance of theory of
knowledge as the cardinal theory of philosophy.

In the Tractatus, the `determination of the circumstances in which I
call a proposition true' must be a statement ofits truth-conditions.
This is a completely different thing from a `rule for the use'
of a sentence, if this takes the form of an `ostensive
definition'. There could be no statement of the truth-conditions of
an elementary proposition, other than a restatement of it;and for all
non-elementary propositions there can always be statements
oftruth-conditions.  If, then, Schlick is following the Tractatus,
`ostensive definition' can only be relevant to the elementary

Further, Schlick insists that our `rules for use; are
`arbitrary';we give what rules we like; all that is essential is
that we give some. Theonly arbitrariness in the Tractatus is in the
assignment of names.  There is no arbitrariness about the fact that a
certain type of arrangement of names is capable of representing
such-and-such a situation; it can do that only by reproducing in its own
structure the arrangement of objects in the situation,and we cannot make
it do so at will. ?

On the Tractatus view,then, one could not ask what observations would
establish the truth of aproposition unless the `structures' of
possible observation statements alreadystood in certain internal
relations to the `structure; of the proposition.  In the presence of
these internal relations,the question of meaningfulness cannot arise,
except in the form of a questionabout the reference of the individual
signs; if these signs are not given areference, the proposition could
not be  `given' a sense, even by stipulating that its truth
would be established if and only if such-and-such observation statements
were verified?.

My only comment here is that there seems to me to a kind of
epistemological strain functioning here despite W's (and
Anscombe's) denials. That, e.g., language MUST have a particular
sort of relation with the world, that there MUST be elementary objects
or there could be no understanding?these seem to me akin to
Descartes' methodological claims regarding the impossibility of
error with respect to the cogito. There is a metaphysical
"comfort" supplied by the non-empirical, yet non-tautological
props of the Tractatus, and W's certainty of the impossibility of
the falsehood of any of them is its own sort of foundationalism.

When Anscombe says "There is no arbitrariness about the fact that a
certain type of arrangement of names is capable of representing
such-and-such a situation; it can do that only by reproducing in its own
structure the arrangement of objects in the situation..."?it's
the very assurance of the impossibility of any invasion by "the
arbitrary" that may give an empiricist pause.


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