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VII - METAPHYSICS AS THE SHADOW OF GRAMMAR

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 February 2022

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Summary

Grammar

By contrast with the philosophical ideals of the youthful Wittgenstein, the viewpoint of the mature Wittgenstein may well seem tarnished and disillusioned. The dramatic change in his conception of the relation between language and reality, of the structures of language, and of the logical structures of the world, led to a re-allocation of the metaphysical from the domain of ineffability, where it lay protected by a penumbra of necessary silence, to the domain of philosophical illusion, a fit subject for the pathology of the intellect. This seems a picture of philosophy fallen from grace. Our understanding of this transformation can be furthered by exploring Wittgenstein's later conception of grammar and its relation to reality. Although the change runs deep, it is instructive to view it in certain respects as a matter of rotating the axis of the investigation one hundred and eighty degrees around the fixed point of our real need (PI, §108). In the Tractatus the essence of language or thought provided the insight into the structure of reality. In the Investigations the essence of language is still, in a qualified sense, the subject of investigation (PI §92). Moreover it might still be said to be isomorphic with the ‘structure of reality’ (for the proposition that P does indeed correspond to the fact that P, if it is true), not because language must mirror the logical form of the universe, but because the apparent ‘structure of reality’ is merely the shadow cast by grammar.

It is illuminating to juxtapose Wittgenstein's conception of grammar with his earlier conception of logical syntax. According to the Tractatus the surface grammars of ordinary languages may differ, but this conceals an underlying uniformity that is made manifest by logical analysis. Analysis will bring to view the essential rules of any possible language in virtue of which a symbolism can represent reality. Logical syntax is a system of rules for the use of signs. These rules are of various kinds. There are rules for the combination of propositions by means of truth-functional operators. Different kinds of rules, viz. definitions of names of complexes, introduce abbreviatory symbols. Yet other rules stipulate combinatorial possibilities for simple signs of various kinds.

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Insight and Illusion
Themes in the Philosophy of Wittgenstein
, pp. 179 - 214
Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2021

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