Wittgenstein's 1913 Objections To Russell's Theory of Belief: A Dialectical Reading

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Wittgenstein's 1913 Objections To Russell's Theory of Belief: A Dialectical Reading

ABSTRACT: In what follows, I give (following Burton Dreben) a dialectical reading of his dismissal of metaphysics and of Wittgenstein's objections to Russell in 1913. I argue that Wittgenstein must be read as advocating no particular theory or doctrine — that is, philosophy is an activity and not a body of truths. Furthermore, this insistence is thoroughgoing. Put differently, a dialectical reading must be applied to one's own thought and talk. Characteristically, this sort of dialectical philosophy begins with the question, Is there any definiteness to what I am doing in my own thinking and speaking? Such a question undercuts the easy assumption that what we are doing may be expressed in a body of meaningful statements. In particular, I argue that Wittgenstein does not advocate any particular theory of language. A common reading of Wittgenstein is that he aims to prevent us from misusing language. This view assumes that, for Wittgenstein, the notion of a correct, acceptable or meaningful use of language may be taken for granted. In my view, Wittgenstein does not take the notions of use of language and grammar and its misuse for granted. For Wittgenstein grammar underdetermines what it is to use or misuse language. I argue that an ethical critique is implicit in Wittgenstein's objections to any attempt to speak a priori about language and thought.

Distrust of grammar is the first requisite of philosophizing. Notebooks, p. 106.

The purpose of my talk this afternoon is to make clear what I shall call, following Burton Dreben, a dialectical reading of Wittgenstein's dismissal of metaphysics in the context of his pre-Tractatus objections to Russell's 1913 theory of belief.

The earliest letters to Russell by Wittgenstein read naturally as presentations or proposals, to be read straightforwardly, as they stand. In this spirit, many authors interpret Wittgenstein as rejecting Russell. s attempts to talk about the structure of language and facts, and, further, as insisting that any attempt to state the limits of language is itself nonsense. On such a reading, Wittgenstein is reacting to Russell. s realist attempts to analyze the structure of facts into constituents and the structure of propositions into names by eliminating certain apparent symbols. Wittgenstein relegates their pseudo-uses to what is shown in the use of propositions. Ricketts writes:

....Russell takes relations to be a type of thing — they are constituents of facts, objects of acquaintance, and the designata of names.

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