## Tuesday, September 25, 2007

4.24 Names are simple symbols. I indicate them by single letters (“x,” “y,” “z”).

I write an elementary proposition as a function of names, in the form: “fx,” “ø(x,y),” etc.

Or else I indicate it by the letters p, q, r.

Black (p. 209) notes that this seems to conflict with 3.202 and 3.26. There, Wittgenstein says that names are signs.

N. N. said...

Generally, Wittgenstein seems to be ambivalent between 'sign' and 'symbol'. Many of the relevant passages in the Tractatus use 'symbol' where the Prototractatus uses 'sign'. This can hardly represent an important change given that there is very little time (probably a matter on months) between the Tractatus and Prototractatus.

I suppose there are two different conclusions that could follow from this. A resolute reader would say that Wittgenstein is encouraging us to hover betweeen incompatible meanings to draw us towards throwing away the ladder. A standard reader could respond, say, as Hacker does, that the distinction is not that important given that a symbol just is a sign used according to the rules for its use.

On another topic, what do you make of the claim that an elementary proposition is a function of names? What work is the function doing?

DR said...

Wittgenstein seems sloppy (inconsistent or needlessly inexplicit about his meaning) quite often in the Tractatus, and I don't know what to make of it. It doesn't seem like him to have been careless, and yet a) there are things that look like carelessness in the book, and b) the idea that all the apparent carelessness is really part of a fiendishly clever plan doesn't always seem plausible. So I'll continue to try to suspend judgment for now.

As for the idea of an elementary proposition as a function of names, perhaps "fx" asserts the existence of x, while "x" would not (by 4.21 and 4.022).

N. N. said...

But the 'x' in 'fx' can be filled only by a single name, e.g., 'fa'. There seem to two problems with understanding the elementary proposition 'fa' as asserting the existence of a: (1) elementary propositions assert the existence of atomic facts. Atomic facts are said to be concatenations of names (plural). But a is a single object, not an atomic fact. (2) The existence of an ojbect cannot be asserted. Its existence is shown by the use of its name in a significant proposition.

DR said...

Yes, those are both problems all right. But "fx" is Wittgenstein's own example (in 4.24). Perhaps he meant it as shorthand for "f(x,y)", although then it's a bit odd that he uses that example as well in the same remark (with a phi instead of an f).