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Re: [ontac-forum] Theories, Models, Reasoning, Language, and Truth

To: ONTAC-WG General Discussion <ontac-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Chris Menzel <cmenzel@xxxxxxxx>
Date: Thu, 15 Dec 2005 08:25:54 -0600
Message-id: <20051215142554.GA57447@xxxxxxxx>
On Wed, Dec 14, 2005 at 09:13:36PM -0500, John Sowa wrote:
> ...
> One point I wanted to emphasize is that natural languages are far more
> complex than many people have assumed.  In particular, many of the
> ontologies that have been proposed can be viewed as implementations of
> Wittgenstein's first book, the _Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus_.
> In his later book, the _Philosophical Investigations_, W. criticized
> the "grave errors" of his first book.  I am convinced that
> Wittgenstein's second book is a much sounder basis for ontology than
> his first book.  In effect, W's first book proposed one giant
> "language game" represented by one giant theory -- much like many
> currently proposed ontologies.  Many of the AI systems implemented in
> the 1970s and '80s could be viewed as direct implementations of W's
> first book.  As I argued in the knowledge soup paper (see below), I
> believe that approach is doomed.
> In W's second book, he argued for an open-ended number of language
> games.    (01)

Just as a matter of (for purposes here) completely irrelevant exegesis,
I can't think of a shred of evidence in TLP for the idea that there is
"one giant theory".  TLP does contain a single, very influential theory
of *meaning*, viz., the "picture" theory, according to which a sentence
has meaning insofar as its internal structural corresponds in a certain
way to the structure of the objects denoted by its referring terms.  And
his purpose was to circumscribe thereby the *limits* of language, and in
particular its powerlessness for expressing and answering questions
concerning what is in fact most important in life, questions of life's
meaning, questions about the good and the beautiful.  Thus the towering,
and ultimately tragic, proposition with which W. closes the book: "Wovon
man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen!" (Toulmin and
Janik's superb book _Wittgenstein's Vienna_, which situates the
development of TLP in its broader cultural milieu, is essential reading
on this point.)     (02)

It is of course true, as you note, that W. roundly rejected the TLP in
the Philosophical Investigations, but your characterization above
suggests that his major critique consisted in rejecting the idea of "one
giant 'lanuage game', represented by one giant theory", in favor of
many, as in your lattice of theories.  But this is seriously misleading.
For PI is a rejection, not of the idea of one giant theory, but of the
whole idea that meaning is representation.  He would reject your lattice
of theories -- all of them representational in nature -- as emphatically
as a single giant theory.  His phrase "language game" was meant to
underscore this, as games are things people *do*; meaning, according to
the Wittgenstein of PI, consists not in the fact that sentences
represent a (purported) objective external world, but in what they are
*used* for.  In TLP, sentences are mirrors; in PI, they are tools.    (03)

Me, I think W. pretty much got it right in TLP. ;-)    (04)

Chris Menzel    (05)

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