[Wittrs] [quickphilosophy] Hacker on ?The Rise and Fall of the Picture Theory?

  • From: wittrsl@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • To: quickphilosophy@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 27 Jul 2010 23:01:34 -0000

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 courier 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 vacuous 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
odd 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, what 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?representation is not only
possible, but actual.

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
consisting 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

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 or 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
conception of the  relationship between W's two masterpieces.  To be
sure there is profound 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 mediated 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 hypothesis can replace a philosophical  account of these

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 so 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  mad.

I just want to add my own sense that the continuing fascination of the 
Tractatus 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 the
regular  rejection of the distinction between ratio essendi and ratio 
cognoscendi by W and his Oxford followers has been enough to cause many
analytic  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 be careful that the treatment not be as harmful as the  disease.


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