Language and Philosophical Problems

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Wittgenstein published only one book in his lifetime, the Logico-Tractatus Philosophicus. It is a short book written in an unusual style. There are no paragraphs.

The Limits of Language

Many sections, which are numbered, consist of a single sentence. The exception to this style is the preface which reads;. A key statement in this preface is that he is seeking to draw a limit to thought. That does not mean to create restrictions for thinking. Instead Wittgenstein is setting out to show that that by mapping the possibilities and impossibilities of thought, we can describe the limits of reality. After all, if we cannot think it then it cannot be -- in our world at least.

That is, for something to exist in the world in actuality or imagination , it must be potentially thinkable by us, otherwise it could never register on our minds at all. Now, someone might reply; "Well but what if there are things in existence that are beyond our human ability to imagine or conceive?

Can you give an example? So, while the objection seems as if it refers to something, it really has no referent at all.

Wittgenstein explains why we always misunderstand one another on the Internet.

This is what Wittgenstein calls nonsense. No because it is silly, but because a sentence has a sense just in so far as it refers to some possible state of affairs in the world.

How Words Can Harm: Crash Course Philosophy #28

Even if it is false or ridiculous, a sentence has sense if it refers to a possible combination of elements. This is part of Wittgenstein's explanation of what meaning is. Yet, Wittgenstein's analysis shows that such a string of words has no referent does not refer to anything and so is without a sense -- is senseless -- is nonsense -- is meaningless.

Language and Philosophical Problems

Such a sentence is neither true not false. Because only sentences with a sense can be true or false the sense is what truth and falsity is based on. This sort of thinking can make many people's heads swim -- you sort of get it but cannot quite pin it down. Language enables one to imagine counterfactual objects, events, and states of affairs; in this connection it is intimately related to intentionality , the feature of all human thoughts whereby they are essentially about, or directed toward, things outside themselves.

Philosophy of language |

Language allows one to share information and to communicate beliefs and speculations, attitudes and emotions. Indeed, it creates the human social world, cementing people into a common history and a common life-experience. Language is equally an instrument of understanding and knowledge; the specialized languages of mathematics and science, for example, enable human beings to construct theories and to make predictions about matters they would otherwise be completely unable to grasp.

Language, in short, makes it possible for individual human beings to escape cognitive imprisonment in the here and now. This confinement, one supposes, is the fate of other animals—for even those that use signaling systems of one kind or another do so only in response to stimulation from their immediate environments. The evidently close connection between language and thought does not imply that there can be no thought without language.

Although some philosophers and linguists have embraced this view, most regard it as implausible. Prelinguistic infants and at least the higher primates, for example, can solve quite complex problems, such as those involving spatial memory. Similarly, among human adults, artistic or musical thought does not demand specifically linguistic expression: it may be purely visual or auditory.

2. The Early Wittgenstein

A more reasonable hypothesis regarding the connection between language and thought, therefore, might be the following: first, all thought requires representation of one kind or another; second, whatever may be the powers of nonlinguistic representation that human adults share with human infants and some other animals, those powers are immensely increased by the use of language. The powers and abilities conferred by the use of language entail cognitive successes of various kinds.

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But language may also be the source of cognitive failures, of course. The idea that language is potentially misleading is familiar from many practical contexts , perhaps especially politics.

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The same danger exists everywhere, however, including in scholarly and scientific research. In scriptural interpretation, for example, it is imperative to distinguish true interpretations of a text from false ones; this in turn requires thinking about the stability of linguistic meaning and about the use of analogy , metaphor , and allegory in textual analysis. The same worries apply to the interpretation of works of literature, legal documents, and scientific treatises.