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This is a peer review critique of an article that has been submitted to the Language Journal.

Title of the reviewed target article[]

Before reading the Philosophical Investigations: a Necessary Context

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Title section for this Peer Review Article[]

Title: PR of Reading Philosophical Investigations by JWSchmidt
Author: JWSchmidt[1]
Leave me alone list: -empty-

  1. ^  JWSchmidt is the wikicities username of John Schmidt. --JWSchmidt 02:39, 8 Aug 2005 (UTC). I can be contacted by way of the email link on my user page.
  2. See also User JWSchmidt for some discussion of issues during the production of this peer review article (the content of User JWSchmidt was moved to the "talk" page for this page, the history of User JWSchmidt may still be useful).
  3. Conflicts of interest. I have been working both as an editor of "Reading Philosophical Investigations" and a reviewer of the article. Another reviewer should pay close attention to parts of "Reading Philosophical Investigations" such as the Appendix that I have contributed to as an editor.

Scope: Complete. I have read Philosophical Investigations but not Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. I think this will make me a reasonable reviewer of the article; able to judge if the article provides useful background information to someone who wishes to read Philosophical Investigations without first reading earlier works by Wittgenstein.
Date started: August 7, 2005.
Completion date: August 21, 2005.


I have previosly read Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, parts of Wittgenstein's Tractatus, parts of On Certainty, some secondary sources that discuss Wittgenstein's philosophy, and none of Wittgenstein's other books. I found the article Before reading the Philosophical Investigations: a Necessary Context by Robert Parr to be a useful introduction to Philosophical Investigations. I feel that the article should be accepted for formal publication by the Language Journal. Ranking: Positive. The author should adequately reply to the list of questions and suggestions for modifications to the article (below) prior to formal publication.


The following suggestions are intended to improve the article. Each section name below links back to the original section of the critiqued article.


1) The abstract is rather short. It mentions the transition of Wittgenstein's philosophical thought (early vs later philosophy) but does not provide any information about the nature of the transition. The author should breifly describe what he views as the major change between Wittgenstein's early tractarian philiosophy and his later philosophy (PI).

Ideas for what to add to the Abstract:

i) A rephrasing of: "The great feat of Wittgenstein, in my mind, was to doggedly follow the logic of the assumptions that Russell and he of the "atomic facts" theory of language to its logical, consistent and absurd conclusion."

ii) "The conclusion of the Tractatus was that having achieved his goal, little was accomplished."
"As for Symbolic Logic he came to see it as too limited to be much use for a philosopher."
("the second thing in which the of this work consists is that it shows how little is achieved when these problems are solved.")

iii) Maybe something could be said about Wittgenstein trying to look at the full richness of language rather than cram it into an over-simplified formal theory. Maybe a rephrasing of: "Wittgenstein now argued that a word only had meaning in the context of a propositional system, and that meaning of a word is the totality of rules governing its use in the system."

Mathematical Logic[]

2) "Content in natural language would be essential in his later philosophy. Much of what he came to call 'grammar' was the logic inherent in the content of words, phrases, and propositions."

There are several important ideas that are introduced in these two sentences. One of these ideas is important for point #1, above, and the distinction between the early and later philosophy of Wittgenstein.

As the article is written, it seems to imply that because "specificity of content does not matter in symbolic logic", content was not essential in the Tractatus. I think this is a dangerous implication to leave open to the reader.

Part of the problem is use of the word "essential". I think the issue of content and meaning was essential in the Tractatus. It is true that the treatment given to content in the Tractatus produces (or is subject to) the illusion that there is a relatively simple solution to the problem of meaning in human language. Why not say that Wittgenstein realized that the treatment of content in the Tractatus was inadequate and this led to a major new assault on the richness of the problem in Philosophical Investigations?

The sentence, "Much of what he came to call 'grammar' was the logic inherent in the content of words, phrases, and propositions," seems like a terse and unproductive way to introduce the term "grammar". Why not point to what is to come by rephrasing this sentence to explicitly say, "As we shall see, in Wittgenstein's new analysis of the content of words, phrases, and propositions, the logic inherent in that content formed much of what he came to call 'grammar'."

Analytic Philosophy[]

3) Is this correct: ~([Em]x) ۰ ֺ φx([E[mx]x) ۰φx۰~([Em,]x,y)۰φ x۰φy

or is this better:

~([Em]x) ۰ φx([E[mx]x) ۰ φx ۰ ~([Em,]x,y) ۰ φx ۰ φy

and just guessing but maybe:

~([Em]x) ۰ φx([Em]x) ۰ φx ۰ ~([Em]x,y) ۰ φx ۰ φy

4) "It was only when Humanism looked for purely human explanations that it took over the assumptions that formed the assumption." My best guess is that the reader is to hold his breath until the next paragraph and that "the assumption" is "the belief that the world has been expressly made to be intelligible and describable by us." The "assumptions that formed the assumption" remain undisclosed.

Suggested alternative phrasing: Humanistic explanations of how language conveys meaning adopted the assumption that the world is naturally arranged so as to be intelligible and describable by us.

An alternative to saying that "humanism" adopted the culturally established view that the world "just happens to be intelligible":
Is it possible that it was natural for humanists to start their analysis of language by making use of Occam's Razor and other rules of thumb to help define a simple hypothesis about the nature of the world and why the world is intelligible? When this "simple hypothesis" was being formed, evolutionary accounts of how thoughts in minds could naturally come to conform to the reality of the external world were not available. The hypothesis that, "that the world is naturally arranged so as to be intelligible," might have been a logical hypothesis for humanists to start with no matter what. If there really was only one simple and logical hypothesis that can be the starting place for a naturalistic account of language, then maybe we do not have to suggest that selecting that hypothesis was a culturally pre-determined adoption of a pre-existing religious belief?

5) "change was explained in dualisms such as mind and matter, body and soul" This paragraph has several telegraphic nuggets like this (what were "Russell's otherworldly platonic assumptions"?). Maybe an example of such "change" could be placed in the Appendix.

6) "atomic facts are like 'snarks'; impossible to find. Neither he nor Russell could cite a single example"

Is this contradicted by what comes next:

Picture Theory[]

"If you take the proposition, 'This is red' as a 'simple', the simples such as, 'This is blue' or, 'This is green', rely on the truth or falsity of the simple, 'This is red'."

Atomic facts are impossible to find but 'This is red' is an atomic proposition? Or are we ASKING if 'This is red' can be a 'simple' along with 'This is blue' and 'This is green' but since these do not behave independently, we finally decide they cannot be simples?

7) “A statement cannot be concerned with the logic of the world"

It is not clear what this (above) means or how this says what the world must be like.

8) "atomic facts must be the explanation of how language works"
"the world must already have just the logical structure that it has"

Is "the logical structure that it has" that it includes atomic facts?

9) "we required the ideal to be a reality"

What ideal? Atomic facts?

10) A key issue would seem to be the connection between thought and the assumed logical field of atomic facts. Is this "logical field" to be concieved as something that auomatically constrains thought, like a mentalistic force that infuses thought with logic in the same way that a gravitational field constrains the movement of objects?

This section ends with, "The smallest parts would be the direct linguistic connection of thought to the World by means of language," but what would constitute the connection?

11) "these two assumptions that atomic facts must be the explanation of how language works"

Exactly what are the two assumptions?

assumption i) "all propositions in of logic could be expressed in symbolic logic"

"in" or "on"?

assumption ii) is it that: "the world must already have just the logical structure that it has"


12) "What we cannot think, that we cannot think: we cannot therefore say what we cannot think."

Another translation:
"We cannot think what we cannot think; so what we cannot think we cannot say either."

This second version seems clearer. Could it me mentioned?

13) "The saying/showing distinction" is mentioned, but never clearly explained. Is the preceding discussion of “A statement cannot be concerned with the logic of the world" to be taken as showing "the logic of the world" to be an example of something that can be shown but not said? If the "the logic of the world" was supposed to be atomic facts, but we cannot find atomic facts maybe they are not "shown", but rather, imagined.

"our ability to see the logic in the world expressed as self-evident in the atomic facts and simples" Does this mean that Wittgenstein's theory demanded that we have a physiological/mental ability to to percieve "atomic facts and simples as self-evident" and so generate understanding of the world, even if we are unable to say what the "simples" are?

14) "what solipsism means is quite correct" But what did Wittgenstein take "solipsism" to mean? That we have a special epistemological relationship to our "self"? That only our "self" exists?

I assume it is the epistemological claim, not the ontological claim that was of concern to Wittgenstein. We cannot think beyond our own self and the powers of thought generated by the self. We cannot speak of anything that is not contained in our thoughts, but we are aware of this limitation.

"The dividing line between what something is and what it is not, the clear and distinct definition, will give the rule the seemingly magical power to always recognize the meaning, the way to follow the rule." This seems like a strange way to introduce discussion of following rules. How is it related to solipsism?

Logicism and Scientism[]

15) "The development of Symbolic language"
There should be some transition from "symbolic logic" to "Symbolic language".

16) In, "It would be a mistake to see this word, 'mystical', as being its logical, consistent and absurd conclusion,"
What is "its"? in what sense is the conclusion absurd?

17) “family resemblances” of meanings

This is introduced without explaination.

18) "By seeing the flaw, not only in content but in method, he had learned much about how not to do philosophy." What is "the flaw"?

The Beginning of the New as the Old Disappears[]

19) According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy the 1928 lecture in Vienna ‘Mathematik, Wissenschaft und Sprache’ is ‘Mathematics, Science and Language’.

20) The article about Wittgenstein at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy by Ian Proops cites several published sources and unpublished quotations from Wittgenstein (some from Moore's notes from lectures Wittgenstein gave in 1932) concerning his abandonment of the picture theory. The first source is Wittgenstein's 1929 article Some remarks on Logical Form (This the article that was to have been presented to the Joint Session of the Aristotelian and Mind Society. Monk's biography of Wittgenstein, page 272.) where he comments on the need to have "numbers enter into the structure of atomic propositions." Once Wittgenstein allowed in numbers, he could not find logical reasons for excluding certain possible realities. Logic alone is not powerful enough to define the quantitative nature of reality. Physical reality is more complex than logic. Proops says, "This .... contradicts the Tractatus's idea that all necessity is logical necessity (6.37)".

The issues raise by Some remarks on Logical Form do seem catastrophic for the ability of logic to generate all of "the world", but I am left wondering why anyone could have had enough faith in the power of logic to think otherwise in the first place.

Proops also sites what seems to be an unpublished letter: "There is a most important mistake in [the] Tract[atus]…I pretended that [a] proposition was a logical product; but it isn't, because “…” don't give you a logical product. It is [the] fallacy of thinking 1 + 1 + 1 is a sum. It is muddling up a sum with the limit of a sum." (November 25, 1932 [CL?])

And, "There was a deeper mistake — confusing logical analysis with chemical analysis. (the same "CL" source is cited)

The "most important mistake" is certainly tied up with infinity, but I do not understand how it has application to the theory of Wittgenstein's Tractatus. I do not understand the comparison of logic to chemistry in the "deeper mistake".


21) Is it Satzsystem or Satzsysteme?

22) Is there a citation to Wittgenstein's first use of "Satzsystem". Philosophical Remarks?

23) "The Satzsystem also meant that a major theme of the Tractatus, that, contra Frege, names have meaning and not sense." This is not a correct sentence.

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