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III - MEANING, METAPHYSICS, AND THE MIND

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 February 2022

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Summary

The Picture Theory of Meaning

On 29 September 1914 Wittgenstein, in his notebook, referred to the fact that in law courts in Paris a motor car accident is represented by a model employing toy cars and figures. It struck him that there is not merely an analogy between the way such a model represents the facts of the accident and the way a proposition represents a situation, but rather that a model, a picture, a proposition are severally special cases of representation and must share certain common features in virtue of which they can represent whatever it is that they represent. In all such cases the representation must, in some way, be co-ordinated with what it represents. Yet, it may represent falsely, for things may not be related as it represents them as being. Rather, as in the model, ‘a world is as it were put together experimentally’ (NB, p. 7). The representation can be true or false, but it must have a sense independently of its truth or falsehood, it must represent a possible configuration of things even if not an actual one.

From this seed grew the famous picture theory of meaning for which the Tractatus is best known. It is important, however, not to exaggerate the importance of the new idea that a proposition is a picture, a logical picture, of a situation. A great many of the ingredients of the Tractatus conception of meaning and representation had occurred to Wittgenstein well before this idea crossed his mind. It enabled him to weld together into a unified whole the thoughts which he had been developing since 1912, as well as leading to what seemed to be fresh insights. I shall try to give a brief sketch of the central points of the picture theory.

First, bear in mind some of the antecedent commitments. The most fundamental was the idea of the bipolarity of the proposition. This had occurred to Wittgenstein very early. While he had never thought Frege right in saying that propositions refer to truth-values, he did originally think that a proposition refers to a fact (has a fact as its Bedeutung or meaning).

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Chapter
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Insight and Illusion
Themes in the Philosophy of Wittgenstein
, pp. 56 - 80
Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2021

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