Thursday, November 16, 2006

2.0211 If the world had no substance then whether a proposition had sense would depend on whether another proposition was true.

In a logically perfect language, all proper names must have Bedeutung. But Frege’s big concern is that proper names’ having Bedeutung should not depend on the truth of a thought (as it seems to in “The man who invented safety razors made a fortune,” which would be Bedeutungslos if there was no such man). See pp. 40-41 of “On Sinn and Bedeutung.”

Mounce presents Wittgenstein’s reasoning here as follows (p. 21): “whether a proposition has sense cannot be a contingent matter. What is contingent is whether it is true (or false). But in order to be true (or false) a proposition must already possess a sense. The sense of a proposition, in short, must be independent of whether it is in fact true or false. Consequently, there must be a contact between language and the world which is prior to the truth or falsity of what we say. Such a contact is to be found in the relationship between a simple name and a simple object, the relationship being such that the name just stands for the object independently of description.”

My firsat reaction: This is mysterious. How could the world have no substance? Would that be an empty space? Or would it be no world at all? Perhaps the meaning of "If the world had no substance" is to be understood in terms of a proposition's having sense depending on whether another proposition was true. So let's look at what that means. It is clearly meant to be (or seem to be) a bad thing, since the sentence sounds like a reductio of the idea that the world might have no substance (whatever that idea might turn out to be). We don't know what sense is yet, for Wittgenstein, but he seems to be saying that if the world had no substance then logic would depend on metaphysics (which, the implication seems to be, is absurd). Whether a proposition is true or false depends on how the world is (is it raining or not?), a matter of what I am calling metaphysics (perhaps I should just call it a matter of fact). Wittgenstein's suggestion seems to be that the whole of logic (what makes sense) must be prior to metaphysics (what is true or the case). So sense or logic must be prior to the world, not temporally (metaphysically) but logically. The dependence here is not causal or anything like that. Some people think that whether a bunch of symbol-like things make sense or not depends on people: on the existence of people (or symbol-users of some kind) and on their happening to use those symbol-like things as symbols. Does "shizzle my nizzle" have sense? Apparently it does, but only because (and only since) some people started to use it as having sense. So we might think that whether "shizzle my nizzle" has sense depends on whether the proposition "People use 'shizzle my nizzle' to mean something" is true. But this cannot be. There can be no question whether a proposition has sense or not, because without sense it is not a proposition. And whether something symbol-like (and what is not symbol-like?) has sense depends on its use or function or role in a language or symbol-system, not on whether a proposition asserting that it is so used is true. Whether a proposition is true depends on the facts, not the other way round. What then about the case of "shizzle my nizzle"? If I bark like a seal and then say "... makes no sense" I have not said anything. Similarly, I would like to say, if I say "Piggly wiggle makes no sense" I have not said anything either. I have made no sense myself. But this seems false. It seems false because the sentence "Piggly wiggle makes no sense" looks and sounds as though it does make sense. The sense in question is something like this: Although "piggly wiggle" look and sound like English words, try using (as opposed to mentioning or quoting) them in a sentence and you will fail. Even here there is an implicit contraction of "the marks 'piggly wiggle' and the sounds you would make if pronouncing them as words" to "piggly wiggle." "Piggly wiggle" does not simply mean piggly wiggle, because there is no such thing to mean, no such meaning. So the sentence/set of marks "Piggly wiggle makes no sense" as it were looks for a sense, or prompts us to look for one on its behalf, and there is a fairly unambiguous sense that it finds. So it is OK to say that it is a sentence and has a sense. There is an important difference between a mere barking and a barking presented as meaning something, just as there is a difference between a pre-linguistic baby making sounds that might be transcribed as "shizzle my nizzle" and an adult claiming that to say "shizzle my nizzle" is to utter a profanity. The status of the sounds is different in each case. The barking and baby cases are as it were a-sensical, sense not being in question at all. The others are in the realm of sense and could be sensical or nonsensical. But only within the realm of sense can the question of truth arise, and then only within the realm of the sensical or meaningful. To think that to which realm something belongs depends on the truth of some proposition is a mistake. It is to reify these realms and their contents. It is to mistake logic for metaphysics. Now how would the world's having no substance imply that this were no mistake? Perhaps because then there would be no difference between logic and metaphysics. All would be logic. Or because from a contradiction, anything at all follows. So the very idea of the world's having no substance might be incoherent. Indeed it does seem to be, since it is hard to conceive of a being ("the world" or anything else) without some kind of substance.


Doug Mounce said...

All propositions presuppose the existence of their terms as a ground, i.e., one cannot ask, "Does X exist?" but only, "Has this existing X the character A or B?"

Wittgenstein is trying to get-at the unique proposition "I exist" because that proposition begs of itself that no rival belief be possible.

Logic depends on assumption. What assumption does Wittgenstein finally conclude?

What assumption do you make? What implication can we draw from the situation where you assume?


DR said...

Thanks Doug.

I don't know about the idea that all propositions presuppose the existence of their terms. We surely do ask whether God exists, for instance. So the claim as it stands is not obviously true. I agree, though, that it would be very strange to say something like "Does this table exist?" while sitting around a table with a group of friends.

I also don't know about the idea that Wittgenstein is especially interested in the proposition "I exist." I don't know of any evidence for this claim.

As for what you say in your last two paragraphs, I'm not sure what you mean. What logic depends on, if anything, seems to be one of the things Wittgenstein is investigating in the Tractatus. I haven't figured out what his conclusions are yet. And as for my assumptions, I'm not consciously making any.