Wittgenstein: Connections and Controversies

By P. M. S. Hacker | Go to book overview
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9 Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle: The Exaltation and Deposition Of Ostensive Definition

1 The Origins Of Logical Empiricism

Viewed from afar, the pattern of evolution in philosophy resembles the superposition of a series of sinusoidal waves of different frequencies. There are characteristic oscillations between empiricism and rationalism, psychologism and Platonism, realism and idealism, and on top of these is a pendulum swing between periods of theory construction on a grand scale and times of critical demolition.

After passing through two decades of predominantly piecemeal linguistic analysis in the 1950s and 1960s, the tradition of analytical philosophy entered into an era of theory building. This was rooted in widespread preconceptions that language is a complex integrated system and that speaking a language is a matter of operating a sophisticated calculus of whose rules speakers are for the most part unconscious. This faith was manifested in works. A logic of adverbs was sought by extending quantification theory to encompass events; demonstratives, proper names, and names of natural kinds were anatomized with the tools of possible world semantics; and analogies between the force of an utterance and modality were exploited to generate logical analyses of non-declarative inferences. The general hope was to explain the apparent mystery of the 'creativity of language'. Optimism nurtured, and was nurtured by, elaborate constructions in formal syntax, formal semantics, and formal pragmatics. Furthermore, philosophers of language discerned a convergence of aim and method with work in theoretical linguistics. They were inspired by a vision of philosophy as a coordinated advance on many fronts towards the completion of an all-embracing science of language. This idea was crystallized in characterizing analytical


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Wittgenstein: Connections and Controversies


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