Grammar in Early Twentieth-Century Philosophy (Part I)
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The following section focuses on three points of interest in the early phases of this tradition: 1 the early work of Ludwig Wittgenstein ; 2 the Logical Positivists ; and 3 Tarski 's theory of truth. Ludwig Wittgenstein came to read Frege and Russell out of an interest in the foundations of mathematics and went to Cambridge to study with Russell.
He studied there, but left to serve in the Austro-Hungarian army in While being held as a prisoner of war, he wrote drafts of a text that many saw as the high-water mark of early analytical philosophy, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. In it, he wrote seven propositions and made extensive comments on six of them, with extensive comments on the comments, and so forth.
He laid out a parsimonious and ambitious plan to systematically realize Frege and Russell's aspirations of analyzing the logical structure of language and thought. Through logical analysis, Wittgenstein held that we could arrive at a conception of language as consisting of elementary propositions related by the now-familiar elements of first-order logic. Any sentence with a sense could have that sense perspicuously rendered in such a system, and any sentence that did not yield to such analysis would not have a sense at all.
Everything that can be said can be said clearly. Rather, in doing so, we do not express anything that has a sense. What we say may get nods of approval from fellow speakers, and we may even be grasping at something important, but what we say does not convey anything meaningful.
In part, this reflects Wittgenstein's early view that propositions "pictured" the world. This is not to say that a written inscription or a verbal utterance of a sentence visually resembles that state of affairs it expresses. Rather, the form of a proposition resembled the form of some fact of the world. What was required to understand this as a picture of the world was just what was needed in the case of actual pictures—a coordination of the elements in the picture with objects outside itself.
Logical truths would be true in virtue of relations among their propositions.
The Development of Analytic Philosophy: Wittgenstein and after
Where we could do this, the language was stating something clearly; where we could not, despite our best efforts, the words were not saying anything at all. However, this was not to say that everything about meaning and our understanding of the world was a matter of explicit definition, that is, something we could say.
Rather than being said with our language, many things can only be shown. For instance, think of a logical expression like "and. The form of our propositions shows how it works and we cannot say anything more informative about it. Wittgenstein also espoused a number of views at the end of the Tractatus on solipsism, the will, and ethics, and what could be said about them; but these remain some of the most difficult and contested points of interpretation in his work.
Wittgenstein took himself to have prescribed the limits of what philosophy could say, and he closed the Tractatus without further comment by saying, "Whereof we cannot speak, we must remain silent. Beginning in , a group of European professors originally known as the Ernst Mach Society began to meet regularly for discussions on matters of logic, philosophy and science under the guidance of Moritz Schlick.
They later took to calling themselves the Vienna Circle and their ongoing conversations became the nascence of a movement known as Logical Positivism, which would include Carl Hempel , Rudolf Carnap , and Hans Reichenbach, among many others. They rejected the Hegelian idealism prevalent in European academic circles, espoused the austere precision of science, particularly physics, as a model for their methods, and took the phenomenalist strains of British empiricism as a more suitable epistemological foundation for such goals.
Carnap adopted the insights of Frege's work and brought tremendous sophistication to the analytical enterprise, particularly in his The Logical Structure of the World The Logical Positivists also took inspiration from Wittgenstein's Tractatus , but their fidelity to his more abstruse aims is tenuous at best.
Analytic sentences were those true solely in virtue of the meanings of their constituent expressions "All bachelors are unmarried" while synthetic sentences were true partly in virtue of empirical facts beyond the meanings of their constituent terms "Flynn is a bachelor". Analytic sentences would be confirmed by logical analysis, while synthetic sentences would be confirmed by appeal to observation sentences, or to sense-data in even more rigorous accounts.
This led the Positivists to the Verificationist Theory of Meaning. Analytic sentences would be true in virtue of the meanings of their terms, while all synthetic sentences would have to admit to some sort of empirical verification criteria. Any sentence that could not be verified by one or the other of these means was deemed meaningless.
This excluded claims with mystical or occult import, but also large areas of ethics and metaphysics as practiced by many philosophers. Schlick put it boldly, saying:. A proposition which is such that the world remains the same whether it is true or false simply says nothing about the world; it is empty and communicates nothing; I can give it no meaning. We have a verifiable difference, however, only when it is a difference in the given… Ayer , p.
By "given" here, Schlick alluded to the stream of sense-data that come before us. Few if any sentences were understood in such ways by most speakers, so the work of philosophy was logical analysis and definition of the concepts of the natural sciences into verificationist terms.
2. The Early Wittgenstein
While one could imagine empirical verification of many things in the physical sciences for example, laboratory results, predictions with observable consequences , it would be far more difficult in fields like psychology and ethics. In these cases, the Positivists favored a type of logical reductionism for the pertinent sentences in the discourse. All sentences and key concepts in psychology would be reduced to empirically verifiable sentences about the behavior of thinking subjects, for instance.
A sentence about a mental state like anger would be reduced to sentences about observable behavior such as raising one's voice, facial expressions, becoming violent, and so on. This would require "bridge laws" or sentences of theoretical identity to equate the entities of, say, psychology with the entities of the physical sciences and thus translate the terms of older theories into new ones.
Again, in some cases the preferred mode would be to equate them directly with sense-data. Where this could not be done, the Positivists took it that the sentences in question were meaningless, and they advocated the elimination of many canonical concepts, sentences and theories, derisively lumped under the term "metaphysics. The Verificationist theory of meaning ran into great difficulty almost immediately, often due to objections among the Positivists. For one, any sentence stating the theory itself was neither analytical, nor subject to empirical verification, so it would seem to be either self-refuting or meaningless.
Universal generalizations including scientific laws like "All electrons have a charge of 1. See Hempel , esp. Efforts at refinement continued, though dissatisfaction with the whole program was growing by mid-century. In two seminal works and , Alfred Tarski made a great leap forward for the rigorous analysis of meaning, showing that semantics could be treated just as systematically as syntax could.
Syntax, the rules and structures governing the recombination of words and phrases into sentences, had been analyzed with some success by logicians, but semantic notions like "meaning" or "truth" defied such efforts for many years. Tarski sought an analysis of the concept of truth that would contain no explicit or implicit appeals to inherently semantic notions, and offered a definition of it in terms of syntax and set theory.
He began by distinguishing metalanguage and object language; an object language is the language natural or formal that is our target for analysis, while the metalanguage is the language in which we conduct our analysis. Metalanguage is the language that we use to study another language, and the object language is the language that we study.
For instance, children learning a second language typically take classes conducted in their mother tongue that treat the second language as an object to be studied. Thus, copies of all the sentences of the object language should be included in the metalanguage and the metalanguage should include sufficient resources to describe the syntax of the object language, as well. In effect, an object language would not contain its own truth predicate—this could only occur in a metalanguage, since it requires speakers to talk about sentences themselves, rather than actually to use them.
There is great controversy about the shape that a metalanguague would have to take to enable analysis of a natural language, and Tarski openly doubted that these methods would transfer easily from formal to natural languages, but we will not delve into these issues here. This much was a largely formal condition, but Tarski added a more robust call for "material adequacy" or a sense that our definition had succeeded in capturing the sorts of correspondence between states of affairs and sentences classically associated with truth.
So, for instance, our truth definition had to imply a sentence like:. Note that the quotes here make the first half of this metalanguage sentence about the object language sentence "Snow is white"; the second half of the metalanguage sentence is about snow itself. Tarski then offered a definition of truth.
The Russell/Bradley Dispute and its Significance for Twentieth Century Philosophy
Further refinements were made to a edition of the paper to accommodate certain features of model theory that we will not discuss here. Once Tarksi added an inductive definition of the other operators of first-order logic, a definition of truth had apparently been given without appeal to inherently semantic notions, though Field would argue that "designation" and "satisfaction" were semantic notions as well.
Whether this should be read as a deflationary account of truth or an analysis of a robust correspondence theory was a point of great debate among analytical philosophers, but much like Frege's earlier work, it played the far more momentous role of convincing further generations of logicians and philosophers that the analysis of traditionally intractable philosophical notions with the tools of modern logic was both within their grasp and immensely rewarding. By the middle of the 20 th century, the approach spawned by Frege, Moore and Russell had taken root with the Logical Positivists.
Ludwig Wittgenstein (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
The Second World War did a great deal to scatter the most talented philosophers from the Continent, and many settled at universities in Great Britain and the United States, spreading their views and influencing generations of philosophers to come. However, the analytical tradition always had a robust streak of criticism from within, and some of the pillars of the early orthodoxy were already under some suspicion from members of the Vienna Circle like Otto Neurath see his and gadflies like Karl Popper.
The next section addresses the work of two figures, Quine and the later Wittgenstein, who challenged received views in the philosophy of language and served as transitional figures for contemporary views.
The Positivists had been happy to admit a distinction between sentences that were true in virtue of the meanings of their terms and those that were true in virtue of the facts, but Quine brought a certain skepticism about the meanings of individual expressions to the table. Much like the Positivists, he was wary of anything that would not admit to empirical confirmation and saw meaning as one more such item.
Quine dismissed the idea of a meaning as a real item somehow present in our minds beyond the ways in which it manifests itself in our behavior. He later dubbed this "the myth of the museum"—a place "in which the exhibits are the meanings and the words are the labels. Quine wondered whether there was a principled distinction between analytic and synthetic statements at all.
In reviewing the prevailing ideas of analyticity, he found each one inadequate or question-begging. Analyticity was a dogma, an article of faith among empiricists especially Logical Positivists and one that could not stand closer scrutiny. Moreover, the Positivists paired analyticity with a second dogma, empirical reductionism, the view that each sentence or expression could be assigned its own distinctive slice of empirical content from our experience. Quine's claim was not that we should not be empiricists or worry about such empirical content, but rather that no individual sentence or expression could be allotted such content all on its own.
The sentences of our language operate in conjunction with one another to "face the tribunal of experience" as a whole. This holism entailed a certain egalitarianism among the sentences to which we commit ourselves, as well.
Any claim could be held true, come what may, if we were willing to revise other parts of our "web of belief" to accommodate it, and any claim—even one we took to be a claim about meaning before, like "all bachelors are unmarried"—could be revised if conditions demanded it. Other, less central claims could be revised more easily, perhaps with only passing interest, for example, claims about the number of red brick houses on Elm St.
This wide-open revisability came to set a tone for epistemology in analytical philosophy during the latter half of the 20 th century. Without tidy parcels of empirical content or analytic truths to anchor an account of meaning, Quine saw little use for meaning at all. Instead, his work focused on co-reference and assent among speakers. In Word and Object , he suggested that our position as speakers is much like that of a field linguist attempting to translate a newly discovered language with no discernible connections to other local languages. He dubbed this approach "radical translation.
In his classic example, we stand around with the locals, notice that rabbits occasionally run by and that the locals mutter "Gavagai" when the rabbits pass; we might be moved by this to translate their utterances as our own word "rabbit. However, this also led to Quine's thesis of the "indeterminacy of translation. Hence, "gavagai" might also be translated as "dinner" if the locals eat rabbits or "Lo, an undetached rabbit part!
Direct queries of the local speakers might also winnow the set of plausible translations a bit, but this presumes a command of a great deal of abstract terminology that we share with those speakers, and this command would presumably rest upon a shared understanding of the simpler sorts of vocabulary with which we started. Hence, nothing that we can observe about those speakers will completely determine the correctness of one translation over all competitors and translation is always indeterminate.
This is not to say that we should not prefer some translations over others, but our grounds for doing so are usually pragmatic concerns about simplicity and efficiency, We should also note that each speaker is in much the same position when it comes to understanding other speakers even in her mother tongue; we have only the observable behaviors of other speakers and familiarity with our own usage of such terms, and we must make ongoing assessments of other speakers in conversation in just these ways. Donald Davidson, Quine's student, would continue to develop these ideas even further in Quine's wake.
Davidson emphasized that the interpretations we create of the expressions in our native language are no less radical than what Quine was suggesting of the field linguist's attempted translations of radically new expressions see his Quine's work inspired many, but also came under sharp attack.
The behaviorism at the heart of his account has fallen out of favor with the majority of philosophers and cognitive scientists. Much of Noam Chomsky's critique of B. F Skinner may be said to apply to Quine's work. The emphasis on innateness and tacit knowledge in Chomsky's work has been subject to intense criticism as well, but this criticism has not pointed philosophers and linguists back towards the sort of strongly behaviorist empiricism on which Quine's account was founded.