Ludwig Wittgenstein Essay

1424 words - 6 pages

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) produced two commonly recognised stages of thought in 20th century analytic philosophy, both of which are taken to be central and fundamental in their respective periods. His early philosophy in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, first published in 1921, provided new insights into relationships between the world, thought, language and the nature of philosophy by showing the application of modern logic to metaphysics via language. His later philosophy, mostly found in Philosophical Investigations, published posthumously in 1953, controversially critiqued all traditional philosophy, including his own previous work. In this essay I will explain, contrast and evaluate both stages of his philosophy, highlighting strengths and weaknesses and concluding that Wittgenstein’s late philosophy has provided an interesting explanation for the meaning of language.
Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus evolved as a continuation of and reaction to Bertrand Russell and G Frege’s conceptions of logic, which Russell has left unexplained. Wittgenstein developed a theory of language that was designed to explain the nature of logical necessity. For Wittgenstein, a factual proposition is true or false with no third alternative. He endorses a ‘picture’ theory of meaning: propositions are meaningful insofar as they ‘picture’ facts or states of affairs: if their structure mirrors the structure of the world. The book addresses the central problems of philosophy which deals with the world, language and thought, and proposes a solution to these problems which is grounded in logic and in the nature of representation. Language, thought and reality share a common logical structure, so understanding the structure of the language allows us to understand the world. Wittgenstein sees the world as consisting of facts, ‘The World Is Everything That Is The Case’, as opposed to the traditional view that the world is made up of objects. These facts are states of affairs which when combined make up objects. Language consists of words organised into propositions; words get their meaning by being correlated to things and propositions get their meaning by being correlated to facts. Words therefore correspond to objects in the world and are related to form sentences. Thus, sentences are only meaningful if they correspond to facts in the world. This led Wittgenstein, a religious man himself, to believe that statements of ethics, religion, aesthetics and metaphysics are not meaningful as they are non-factual. For example, ‘The Mona Lisa is beautiful’, ‘Humans deserve equal rights’ and ‘God is our Father’ aren’t propositions at all as they don’t tell us anything, they are neither true or false. He acknowledges that the sentences of the Tractatus are not meaningful either as they speak about the relationship between language and the world rather than describing facts in the world. This view shows how Wittgenstein agreed with Russell’s theory of definite descriptions and...

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