The Picture Theory

  • Richard A. Watson
Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 250)


In his “Introduction” to Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico- Philosophicus, Bertrand Russell says that the question Wittgenstein is concerned with is “what relation must one fact (such as a sentence) have to another in order to be capable of being a symbol for that other?” To solve this logical problem, one must determine “the conditions for uniqueness of meaning in symbols or combinations of symbols.” He goes on to say that “perhaps the most fundamental thesis of Mr. Wittgenstein’s theory” is this: “In order that a certain sentence should assert a certain fact there must, however the language may be constructed, be something in common between the structure of the sentence and the structure of the fact.” 1 Explicitly, “We speak of a logical picture of a reality when we wish to imply only so much resemblance as is essential to its being a picture in any sense, that is to say, when we wish to imply no more than identity of logical form.”2 A further specification of this principle, as I point out below, is that in representation we conventionally use only as much likeness between representation and object as is required for the one to represent the other.


Picture Theory Logical Construction Elementary Experience Logical Symbolism Complex Symbol 
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  1. 1.
    Bertrand Russell, “Introduction,” in Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, translated by C. K. Ogden (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, corrected edition 1933) (original, 1922), p. 8. I quote from this edition because the Ogden translation is historically the most influential, but also because its style is truer to that of the original German. Compare, for example, the rhetorical force of the last sentence in the Tractatus as translated by Pears and McGuiness with that of Ogden: Wittgenstein: Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, daruber muss man schweigen. Ogden: Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent. P&McG ( 1961 ): What we cannot speak about we must consign to silence. P&McG (revised 1974): What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence. One hardly even need to be able to read German to recognize (the picture theory exhibited!) that Ogden’s translation is truer to form than the two attempts of Pears and McGuinness. Historically, the fact that Ogden’s translation conveys the same biblical overtones ofWittgenstein’s original has been very important in its influence, which by now has extended far beyond professional logic and the philosophy of language. Who could believe that the sentence “What we cannot speak about we must consign to silence” could ever have attained the oracular status of “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent”? The rhetorically bland and flat translation of Pears and McGuinness fails to represent a very important aspect of the original German. Are we to infer that Ogden has a far better comprehension of the picture theory than do Pears and McGuinness? Wittgenstein’s remarks are cited by the decimal numbers he assigned to them.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Ibid., Russell, “Introduction,” p. 10.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    I provide a detailed discussion of this thesis concerning intelligible extension in “Foucher’s Mistake and Malebranche’s Break: Ideas, Intelligible Extension, and the End of Ontology,”, in Stuart Brown (editor), Nicolas Malebranche: His Philosophical Critics and Successors (Assen/Maastricht: Van Gorcum, 1991), pp. 22-34.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Rudolf Carnap, Der logische Aufbau der Welt (Berlin-Schlachtensee: Weltkreis-Verlag, 1928); Scheinprobleme in der Philosophie: Das Fremdpsychische und der Realismusstreit (Berlin-Schlachtensee: Weltkreis-Verlag, 1928). Page numbers are cited from The Logical Structure of the World and Pseudoproblems in Philosophy, translated by Rolf A. George (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Ibid., p. v.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Ibid., p. vii.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Ibid., p. 7.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Ibid., p. 5.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 9.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 8.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 10.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 11.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Ibid., p. 19.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
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    Ibid., p. 20.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 171.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 177.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 190.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 262.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 263.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 178.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 292.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Nelson Goodman, The Structure of Appearance, Second Edition (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1966).Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 132.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 128.Google Scholar
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    Nelson Goodman, Languages of Art (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1968), pp. 3–4.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 5.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., pp. 6-7.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 8.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 9.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., pp. 7-8.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Ibid., p. 8.Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    Ibid., p. 7.Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Ibid., p. 12Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Ibid., p. 13.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 14.Google Scholar
  49. 49.
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    Ibid., p. 15.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 16.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 15.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 16.Google Scholar
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    Ibid, p. 21.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 25.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 34.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 36.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 38.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 48.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 39.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 40.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 131.Google Scholar
  64. 63.
    Ibid., p. 226.Google Scholar
  65. 65.
    Ibid., p. 277.Google Scholar
  66. 66.
    Ibid., p. 231.Google Scholar
  67. 67.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard A. Watson
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyWashington UniversitySt. LouisUSA

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