LANGUAGE AS A MIRROR OF THE WORLD: Reconciling picture theory and language games

Allott, Robin (2003) LANGUAGE AS A MIRROR OF THE WORLD: Reconciling picture theory and language games. [Preprint]

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Wittgenstein in the Tractatus focussed on a picture theory of language. He was clear that this meant that language mirrored reality, mirrored the world. The picture theory was an account in essence of the relation between a word and what it referred to in the external environment, or between a sentence, a proposition or sachverhalt and the event or situation to which it referred. The Tractatus was completed in 1919 and published in 1922. Within the space of 11 years after its publication Wittgenstein had abandoned the picture theory and, in the Blue Book and the Brown Book, sketched out a quite different account of language as a congeries of language games, and different languages as different sets of language games; words were given their meanings by use, by explanation, by training and essentially by social interaction. This changed account took its definitive form in the Philosophical Investigations, posthumously published in 1953. Wittgenstein did not wholly abandon the Tractatus and would have liked the Tractatus and his later writings to be published together, though this was never done before his early death (Hacker 1996). There is a problem how he could have presented two such different accounts of language with equal conviction. Can they be reconciled? The examination in much greater depth of both may solve the problem. Since the Tractatus and the Philosophical Investigations, there have been massive advances in different but equally relevant fields: in linguistics, in neurology, in philosophical discussion, in evolutionary theory, in psychology, in child development. Most recently and relevantly, there has been the discovery of mirror neurons (Rizzolatti & Arbib 1998), neurons which are excited by the perception of action and which seem to constitute the precursors of motor programs to reproduce the perceived action, that is, a plausible basis for imitation and communication. There has also been great progress in the study of the active brain in the production of speech, using fMRI, PET, ERP, MEG and there are new ideas on the motor basis of speech production and speech perception, on the relation of speech and gesture, on visual and auditory perception. The paper will suggest that in the light of all these developments Wittgenstein's two accounts of language can be reconciled within a larger framework, and the philosophy and science of language can profitably be linked with each other.

Item Type:Preprint
Additional Information:presented at 30th LACUS, Victoria University, Canada
Keywords:Wittgenstein, mirror neurons, Rorty, motor control, Chomsky, minimalism, language evolution, brain-scanning
Subjects:Philosophy > Philosophy of Language
ID Code:3110
Deposited By: Allott, R M
Deposited On:16 Aug 2003
Last Modified:11 Mar 2011 08:55

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