Objective backing


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This raises the question, whether the word 'ratification' has any clear meaning in the theory of necessary truth which Wittgenstein seems to be offering. But it was always obvious that this would come into question. For the kind of solvent which he applies to necessary truths which are being used as rules of inference in suggested proofs can obviously be applied to all necessary truths, including those which have just been directly ratified. So it seems that, if Wittgenstein's theory were right, all communication would break down.

[...] it is important to remember that he, at least, did not think that he was denying anything that could be given a clear meaning. He was trying to demonstrate not that logic and mathematics do not rest on a Realistic basis, but only that that basis cannot provide any independent support for them.

[...] the sources of the necessities of logic and mathematics lie within those areas of discourse, in actual linguistic practices, and, when those necessities seem to point to some backing outside the practices, the pointing is deceptive, and the idea that the backing is independent is an illusion.

[...] Wittgenstein was not offering a theory designed to show that logic and mathematics, which everyone felt to be safe, in fact the safest things of all, are really in a precarious position. The question is, granted that they are safe, what makes them safe [...]

[Wittgenstein's] point is only that it is a contingent fact that human beings agree in their ratifications, however hopeless the situation would be if they did not agree, and that this agreement is the foundation of logic and mathematics. 

[...] when we judge deviant systems of non-ratification by our standards of correctness, and reach the inevitable verdict that they are mistaken, we must realize that this judgement can be reciprocated, and that it does nothing to show that our system has any independent backing [...] it is only a contingent fact that there is as much agreement in these ratifications as there is, and it is on this fact alone that logic and mathematics depend.

[Wittgenstein] wants to show that there is only one possible theory here, and that is the anthropocentric theory, and that there is no way of formulating Realism as a genuinely different theory about an independent objective backing.

It is Wittgenstein's later doctrine that outside human thought and speech there are no independent, objective points of support, and meaning and necessity are preserved only in the linguistic practices which embody them.

They are safe only because the practices gain a certain stability from rules. But even the rules do not provide a fixed point of reference, because they always allow divergent interpretations.

What really gives the practices their stability is that we agree in our interpretations of the rules.

[David Pears]
Wittgenstein, p. 138-40, 168


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Ultimate components


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[Wittgenstein] believed that language disguises thought, and that the real forms of our thoughts would become apparent only when the language in which they are expressed had been analysed and broken down into its ultimate components, which, according to him, are elementary propositions.

His idea was that the assertion of ordinary factual propositions is a gross move, which contains within itself a large number of minute moves. The grossness of ordinary factual propositions is a blessing [but] an exact account of what they mean could be given only if they were analysed into their ultimate components [...]

Wittgenstein did not claim to be able to give any examples of elementary propositions, because he thought that neither he nor any other philosopher had yet got down to the ultimate components of factual propositions.

In default of examples we have to rely entirely on Wittgenstein's specification of elementary propositions. He specifies them as a class of factual propositions which are logically independent of one another: the truth or falsity of one elementary proposition never implies the truth or falsity of any other elementary proposition.

To have a sense is to have a precise sense, and a factual proposition gets its precise sense only because its words represent things, just as a diagram says something only if its parts represent things [...] a factual proposition gets its precise sense only because its words either themselves represent existing things or are analysable into other words which represent existing things.

[...] to say that a proposition must have a precise sense is to say that it must be possible to draw a sharp line around everything that is necessarily the case if [the proposition] is true. [However] some factual propositions might be inherently vague. Wittgenstein himself makes this point [...] in Philosophical Investigations, and raises the interesting general question, whether logic idealizes the structure of language and, if so, to what extent.

A country, whose frontier was always a little further out than at any moment it was deemed to be, would not really have a frontier, and so would not be a territorial unit at all. Similarly, the aggrandizement of the sense of a proposition must come to a halt. There must be a definite limit to what is being asserted, and so there must be a definite limit to the view into reality which is presented by a picture or a factual proposition. Both may have a very fine grain, but in each case there must be a definite limit to the fineness of the grain.

This is an abstract argument, based on a general theory of meaning, and Wittgenstein did not claim to be able to produce any examples of complete analyses which might reinforce its conclusion, or even illustrate it. He merely specified elementary propositions as a class of logically independent factual propositions, and he left the precise nature of their elements, which he called 'names', shrouded in mystery.

Now these names were pure names, which, unlike the name 'Dartmouth', had no concealed factual content. So their meanings could only be the simple objects, or, as he puts it, leaving the qualification to be understood, the 'objects', which they represented. But what sort of thing is an object?

Elementary propositions lie at the centre of the system of factual discourse, and constitute its inner limit. The first stage of Wittgenstein's demarcation of the system was to fix this inner limit, because it was the point of origin from which he was to work outwards and calculate its outer limit, the maximum expansion of the bubble.

[David Pears]
Wittgenstein, p. 58-62, 66-7


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Inner life


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As Wordsworth walked, filled with his strange inner joy, responsive thus to the secret life of nature round about him, his rural neighbors, tightly and narrowly intent upon their own affairs, their crops and lambs and fences, must have thought him a very insignificant and foolish personage.

It surely never occurred to any one of them to wonder what was going on inside of him or what it might be worth. And yet that inner life of his carried the burden of a significance that has fed the souls of others, and fills them to this day with inner joy.

[...] so blind and dead does the clamor of our own practical interests make us to all other things, that it seems almost as if it were necessary to become worthless as a practical being, if one is to hope to attain to any breadth of insight into the impersonal world of worths as such, to have any perception of life's meaning on a large objective scale.

Only your mystic, your dreamer, or your insolvent tramp or loafer, can afford so sympathetic an occupation, an occupation which will change the usual standards of human value in the twinkling of an eye, giving to foolishness a place ahead of power, and laying low in a minute the distinctions which it takes a hard-working conventional man a lifetime to build up.

You may be a prophet, at this rate; but you cannot be a worldly success.

[William James]
Pragmatism and Other Writings, p. 275


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