Tag: Philosophy of Language

Support for ‘theories of propositional attitudes and their objects’? I think not

8.What is the point of Wittgenstein’s claim that ‘it is in language that an expectation and its fulfilment make contact’? Does it improve on other accounts of the relation between propositional attitudes and their objects?

The above question is from what looks to be either a class-related website or a site dedicated to a follow-up discussion for some presentation on Wittgenstein’s later philosophy.  Credit goes to Oxford University–you can view it here–but I have no clue who the author is.  Anyway, it raises some interesting issues.

What immediately comes to my mind is the fact that it presupposes a degree of relevance concerning ‘accounts of the relationship between propositional attitudes and their objects’.  But my reading of that quote doesn’t really include ‘objects’ in the sense of ‘referents’ or ‘that which an extensional expression or word is causally connected to’.  It appears that Wittgenstein is refuting the idea that there is some epistemic relationship between ‘what is expected’ and the ‘mental state called ‘to expect’.

I might rephrase the above to something like the following: “it is within language–and not ‘[merely] expressible within language’ or represented in language–that an expectation and its fulfillment ‘make contact'”.  Properly speaking, any talk of the relation between ‘an object’ and ‘the state that has that object as referent’ is made possible, already presupposed by, the language that makes that relation intelligible in the first place. I take that quote as dismissive to the account of language and meaning which says that intentional states are representative of the objects they are ‘about’ or ‘directed towards’, to put it one way.

The connection between ‘state’ and ‘object’ is fulfilled within language, not merely explained by it.  Language doesn’t merely serve the function of explaining the causal link between a state and what the state is about: language is necessary for the relation in the first place.  In that sense, language is as much responsible for the relation as the state and the object conjointly.

Its hard for me to take the quote in context, since I’m not sure exactly where it comes from, though it does look familiar to me–I may have seen it reproduced in Philosophical Grammar. But given what I just elaborated on, it would seem unreasonable to presume that the quote above improves or fails to improve upon theories of propositional attitudes and their objects.  Indeed, the quote seems to criticize talk of ‘theories of propositional attitudes and their objects’ since it presumes language ‘represents’ what already existed ‘absent it’.

My answer to the question, then, is that the quote above undermines the fundamental distinction between ‘word and object’ or ‘intentional state’ and ‘intentional object’.   Or put another way: it dissolves the fundamental difference between state and object (and more generally, between word and object)–a distinction that is necessary to ask that question in the first place.  So in that sense, does the above quote improve upon it?  I have no idea.