Philosophy Chapter 14 & Lecture 1: Existentialism: Wittgenstein

Paper requirement:

The paper must be at least 800 words in length (it can be longer) and it must describe and analyze an argument of a philosopher covered in our weekly readings. You cannot write about the same philosopher for both papers.

To do well your paper must demonstrate a clear, focused, well organized understanding of a philosophers argument/concepts and not simply your opinion about a philosopher’s work-the paper must be about the argument of a philosopher not about you. Your opinions are very important and I want to see you articulate yourself in the context of our discussion board.

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  1. Each paper must describe and analyse the argument (s) of a philosopher in our readings. Do not submit a biography or a summary of your readings! You must describe in detail the arguments which each philosopher is proposing regarding the problems under consideration. You must define, identify, describe and analyse what a philosopher means when he writes about a philosophical concept, like “human freedom”, or “alienation”, ect.  I evaluate your papers based on your ability to provide:
  • Descriptive Detail  
  • Clarity
  • Describe the logical steps of a philosophers argument 
  • Your ability to analyse a philosophers argument.

Course: PH101 Introduction to Philosophy
School: New Jersey Institute of Technology

Chapter 14 & Lecture 1:


Philosopher Sartre

chapter 17 & Lecture 2:


Bertrand Russell, Wittgenstein’s teacher and mentor, came up with a famous paradox. As a mathematician and a philosopher, a logician, he tried to investigate the solving of problems using statements that were either true or false. Something can’t be both true and false, can it? Can God exist and not exist? That is called the “rule of the excluded middle.” Using the “set” logic of a mathematician he constructed this logic puzzle “Who Shaves Harry the Barber.”

If Harry the barber shaves only those who do not shave themselves, who shaves Harry the barber?


Can the set of all sets that are not members of themselves be a member of itself? Go to the link on Russell’s Paradox

Until Bertrand Russell, and from the time of Descartes, the central branch of philosophy had been epistemology—the study of what we can know. Descartes had searched inside himself for secure knowledge.

But after Russell, epistemology was displaced by the philosophy of language and the premise that our words are the lenses through which we access thoughts and the external world. We cannot “see” the world without them.

And the real significance for philosophy came when Russell transferred the techniques he had employed in this work to the study of language and then to the perennial problems of metaphysics: the nature of existence, knowledge, truth, etc. The most famous of his theories concerns the baldness of the French monarch.

In this sense the relationship is language versus the world. How is it that a series of letters, say “p-i-p-e,” when placed in appropriate order acquire meaning?

The creed in the early 20th century that was part of a branch of philosophy known as logical atomism was that all words stand for objects—words mean their objects.

But this view of the link between language and the world raises a number of perplexing issues. What object does a fairy tale creation such as a golden mountain signify?

Back to Russell’s bald monarch: If we utter, “The King of France is bald.” It is a perfectly coherent statement. One who didn’t know might believe it to be true. “We are confused by our language,” Russell believed.

“The king of France is bald” actually masks a complex logical triplet. Its three ingredients are:

  1. There is a king of France.
  2. There is only one king of France.
  3. Whoever is king of France is bald.

Once this logic is exposed, we can see how this statement makes sense but is false: it is because the first premise is untrue.

Wittgenstein had come to see the linguistic scrutiny of objects/concepts as of value in itself. His book, The Tractatus, opens with: “The world is all that is the case” and concludes with “Whereof one cannot speak, therefore one must remain silent.”

For Wittgenstein, a thought is a linguistic picture of reality.

Since language is governed by rules it is essentially public and embedded in practice in public through rules which have to be interpreted through consensus—that we all agree on the rules. Otherwise language would not work.

The idea of a “private” language is incoherent even though you can make up your own language. Since you must create the rules for your own language (all languages are made-up, that is created over time), you may teach someone how to speak it, but only through this public consensus.

Therefore, Descartes, by looking inside himself for knowledge sought certainty from the wrong direction. His proposition, “I think therefore I am” is nothing more that a linguistic circular statement equal to the “King of France is bald.” From this insight, Wittgenstein overturned several hundred years of philosophy and emancipated his followers from the search for rock-bottom certainty.

For Wittgenstein, the aim of philosophy was to disentangle ourselves, to show the fly the way out of the bottle. To discourage those who stare at objects and feel that they can somehow penetrate phenomena and reach immaterial core.

Philosophical problems then are puzzles.

Wittgenstein writes that philosophical problems arise because we misunderstand the logic of language. Our troubles arise when we try to burrow below the surface.

He writes that people say again and again that philosophy doesn’t really progress, that we are all still occupied with the same philosophical problems as were the ancient Greeks. But the people who say that don’t understand why this is and don’t understand that it is because language, our language, has remained the same and keeps seducing us into asking the same questions.

And so the theory that meaningful statements have either to be analytic where truth or falsity can be established by examining the meanings of words—for example: All triangles have three sides (true by definition) or open to observation by testing, became known as logical positivism and many logical positivists took the Tractatus as their Bible.

They extracted this principle of verification from the Tractatus and they accepted, as had Russell, one of Wittgenstein’s core claims: that all proofs and all logical inferences such as, “if it is raining, it is either raining or it is not raining” are merely tautologies. In other words they give us no information about the actual world. They are devoid of substance. They are only about the internal relationship of the statements or equations.

Do you believe Wittgenstein was right, that what cannot be expressed through langauge cannot be thought?  In other words, is it possible to think without a word or some compenent of language?  Can you think without a language of some kind?

Check out this link on Wittgenstein:

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