Argumenta – Journal of Analytic Philosophy

The topic is Wittgenstein’s eventual abandonment of his Tractatus idea that a sentence is true if and only if it depicts a possible fact that obtains, and his coming (in the Investigations) to replace this with a deflationary view of truth. Three objection to the initial idea that will be discussed here are: (i) that its theory of ‘depiction’ relies on an unexplicated concept of word-object reference; (ii) that its notion of a possible fact obtaining (or existing, or being actual, or agreeing with reality) is also left mysterious; and (iii) that Wittgenstein’s conception of possible atomic facts makes it difficult to see how any of them could fail to be actual. These problems are resolved by deflationism. But that perspective could not have been incorporated into the Tractatus. For the view of ‘meaning qua use’, on which deflationism depends, was the key insight enabling Wittgenstein to appreciate the untenability of his other central Tractarian doctrines.

This paper will address four related questions: What is the account of truth that Wittgenstein gives in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus? To which view of the concept does he turn in his Philosophical Investigations? Is this a move in the right direction? And how does it relate to other important differences between his early and late philosophy: is it a cause of them, a mere effect of them, or fairly independent of them? Before getting started on all this, let me be upfront about something that will anyway become evident very quickly. I am a philosopher, but not much of a scholar. I am primarily interested in philosophical ideas, in the relationships between them, and in their plausibility—and less interested in whether they can be pinned on this or that philosopher at this or that point in their life.


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