Sunday, October 13, 2013

Philosophical Remarks on Philosophical Remarks

"A proposition is completely logically analyzed if its grammar is made completely clear: no matter what idiom it may be written or expressed in."
(Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Remarks (1930), Part I (1))

Wittgenstein's "obsession" with grammar is thus clarified: one cannot proceed with the analysis of a proposition unless "its" grammar is fully understood. This "its" looks quite peculiar. Usually we tend to think of the grammar of a specific language, for instance, the grammar of the Romanian language. Then we can look into the grammar of a proposition expressed in Romanian. What does Wittgenstein mean by "the grammar of a proposition"? Does he mean the rules that make that proposition meaningful? Does he point to the syntax of a proposition or rather to its semantics? Well, perhaps he had both in mind, but we shall see if I'm right. Grammar refers to both syntax of propositions and semantics. It follows that one has to study these two in order to make sense of what a proposition is about. However, my own assertion seems to be circular: to "make sense" of something is to refer to its semantics, not to its syntax. Now, can I understand a meaningful proposition unless I know its syntax? Do I have to know that in the proposition "A tree is in my yard" the word "a tree" is a grammatical subject in order to understand what it means? No, I don't have to. It follows that Wittgenstein does not bear in mind the dictionary definition of grammar. What is his notion of grammar? Does it apply only to statements or to all kinds of sentences? Let's extend upon this. Suppose Wittgenstein would refer to sentences in general, not only to propositions. Then one should clarify the grammar of a random sentence. If I say "Wait a minute, Mr. Postman!", what rules do I have to make sense of, given that the sentence expresses a request, so it falls into the category of imperative sentences? This sort of question would produce a pseudo-problem. I can't logically analyze sentences that don't fall into the category of "propositions". However, I intuitively sense some underlying rules that implicitly emerge from "Wait a minute, Mr. Postman!". I couldn't say "Wait minute a, Postman Mr.!", but I could say "Mr. Postman, wait a minute!", although this illocutionary act might not produce the same per-locutionary effect (ok, you'd have to read Austin to understand this one, sorry :) ). We are aware that the order of words has changed and that has impacted upon the pragmatics of the proposition. That makes us be aware of the existence of some "invisible" rules. These rules have also been disturbed, with two differences arising: in the first case, the order of words breaks down the rules completely, so that any sane reader does not understand what I mean; in the second one, the order of words has changed in a way that I'm familiar with, so that even if I might not be as persuasive as in my original imperative claim, anyone can understand what I'm saying. So there are rules even in non-declarative sentences (propositions or logical sentences), but they are somehow hidden or implicitly assume. That's why, I think, Wittgenstein doesn't get into this topic: it can be dangerous to tackle on something that is only "intuitively sensed". Had he lived more than 62 years, his third period would have been acknowledged as related to it.

(Camil Cardaș)

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