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

  • From: wittrsl@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • To: quickphilosophy@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 4 Aug 2010 11:02:07 -0700 (PDT)

Hi Walter:
I've fallen a little bit behind, but let me offer a few comments here. I'm 
reading Griffin's book, by the way, and think it's pretty informative...if a 
bit quirky.
I don't think it's right to say Russell "eliminated" definite descriptions 
(DDs); it was one of his most important and lasting contributions to 
philosophical logic (cf. Neale, "Descriptions," Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 
1990). And W, I think, basically adheres to the analysis of DDs given by 
Russell, namely, that they are disguised existential and uniqueness statements.
Agreed, of course, that no DD is atomic. The atomic sentences in predicate 
logic are just the strings of symbols of the form R(a, b, c, ...), where R is 
an n-ary relation, and each a,b,c, etc. is either a constant or a term 
containing no variables. So, if W. has this logic in mind for the way the world 
of all that is the case operates, then he has to at some point concede that 
there are atomic facts and corresponding atomic propositions. I don't see any 
way around this, unless the TLP is vacuous.
At the same time, I think I can see how "The leaf is green" might be 
analyzed into atomic propositions. We need names for simples and we need either 
names for spatial locations or predicates that define spatial locations 
(otherwise, there's no language for the arrangment of objects). So "The leaf is 
green" becomes "Leaf is here" & "Green is here". In this way, every atomic fact 
is just a thing at a place. But then we need properties or effects, like green, 
warm, liquid, noisy, etc., to be things.
Why can't there be names for complexes? Why can't I have a name for a house, 
"Tara", for example? Propositions about Tara resolve into more elementary 
propositions about Tara's component objects: "Tara is burning" = "The roof is 
burning" & "The porch is burning" & ....
It would also appear that species and genera would acquire names and logical 
structures through disjunctions of some sort: water = this_water_1 | 
this_water_2 | ....
Individual things, even if they are composite, like Tara, would be given by 
logical conjunctions Tara = this_stud & that_stud & this_rafter & this_brick & 
that_joist & ....
It's practically impossible to carry the analysis of complexes as far as it 
would need to go, and there is always the possibility that empirical 
investigation leads to the discovery that what we had named a simple is in fact 
analyzable into components. Thus, there is no dire need to provide examples, 
and this, I would suggest, is why W. did not provide concrete examples. 
Although, as you point out, he did indicate their form: just what first-order 
predicate logic would demand.

--- On Tue, 8/3/10, walto <calhorn@xxxxxxx> wrote:

From: walto <calhorn@xxxxxxx>
Subject: [quickphilosophy] What are objects, and what is the form of an atomic 
To: quickphilosophy@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Date: Tuesday, August 3, 2010, 3:33 PM


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 analysis.
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 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 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 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 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 
[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 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'.

Other related posts: