6.03.2002

[39,40] These remarks, like the earlier sequence pertaining to the relation of language to thought, attack correspondence as the source of meaning. What philosophers try to do, Wittgenstein says, is find solace in the putative stability of word to object relations. To avoid the seduction of this kind of reduction and the certitude it appears to afford, we have to keep in mind that meaning is an achievement emanating from use. Names, we are asked to acknowledge, make sense even when their referent is a piece of fantasy, a person from the past, or, we can image, a person from the future (as in couples on a first date discussing the names they like for children).

Who is Wittgenstein addressing in these remarks? Carnap, the Vienna Circle, Russell, Moore, and all those philosophers who sought to provide science with firm philosophical footing in its relation to physical reality. At the time Wittgenstein was producing these remarks -- versions can be found as early as the 1933 "Big Typescript" --it would be hard to imagine a more radical pronouncement from one touted by Russell, for one, as "the future of philosophy." The Tractatus was taken to be a foundational text by various philosophers and philosophers of science. What Wittgenstein knew, but they did not see, was that he saw himself standing outside of the philosophical language-game. He was a critic coming from an engineering background who wanted philosophy to get things done. (I could just have easily said, "he was a critic coming from an idiosyncratic religious background who wanted philosophy to face its own limitations".)

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