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

  • From: wittrsl@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • To: quickphilosophy@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 03 Aug 2010 22:33:53 -0000

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 there is a problem of  ambiguity with respect to "the biggest guy
in the room" it won't be eliminated  through by  Russellian

In Griffin's view,  W's propositional analysis is strictly
analogous to chemical 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 bristles are connected to the 
broomstick."  It will in this way analyze "the broom" into
smaller and smaller  referents, just as a physical analysis would break
down the 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 examples of atomic

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 general 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 complexes
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, names 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 be an  elementary proposition.  In a recent post, I reproduced 

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 should 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
structure; and if it has a structure, then it cannot be an object in 
the strict sense.  It is called an object because it and a darker blue
are  spoken of as standing in a 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 an
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: a 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 structured differently?.

[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  stage.

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 the propositional sign "Fa" has the sign "F"
in it, which is not a  name, "a" cannot 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 there are
atomic props of the  form `Fa'.


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