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

  • From: wittrsl@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • To: quickphilosophy@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 04 Aug 2010 01:01:11 -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 via 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 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 to me 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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