UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Wittgenstein on universals Fahrnkopf, Robert


In this thesis I dispute the commonly held opinion that, both in his earlier and later philosophy, Wittgenstein opposes the view that there are such entities as universals. I contend, on the contrary, that the early Wittgenstein includes properties and relations, as well as particulars, among simple objects, and that the later Wittgenstein—though repudiating the Platonic version of realism found in the Tractatus—implicitly retains a moderate Aristotelian realism in which at least specific shades of color are held to exist as objective entities in their own right, though not apart from the particular things they qualify. Chapters I through IV concern the early Wittgenstein; Chapters V through VII concern the later Wittgenstein. In Chapter I, I argue that Wittgenstein's equation of the objects of the Tractatus with Russell's, 'individuals'. in #46 of the Philosophical Investigations, is compatible with a realistic Interpretation of the Tractatus. since Russell himself (until 1913) included universals among individuals. In Chapter II, I introduce the distinction between independent and dependent symbols (where the symbolizing role of the latter, but not the former, requires that they be in relation to other symbols). With respect to this distinction, I trace Wittgenstein's views through a three-stage development. His first position is that both particulars and universals are represented by independent symbols; his second position is that only particulars are so represented, and that symbols which ostensibly stand for universals are, in virtue of their dependence on other symbols, not really names of objects, and instead contribute only to a symbolization of the form of the proposition in which they occur; his third position—formulated first in the Notebooks and retained in the Traotatus—recognizes that every symbol in a proposition has meaning only in the context of the proposition, so that both universals and particulars are represented by dependent symbols and are therefore entitled to equal status as objects. In Chapter III, I advance additional textual arguments favoring a realist interpretation of the Tractatus, and in Chapter IV, I examine and rebut various counter-arguments. In Chapter V, I argue that neither Wittgenstein's family-resemblance doctrine nor his attack on over-simplified conceptions of the functions of words shows that he disallows the possibility that some words are names of universals; furthermore, I argue that there is evidence that colors are regarded as just such objects. In Chapter VI, I trace the development of Wittgenstein's later views to show that his interest in the problem of universals centers almost exclusively around the repudiation of his earlier Platonism, which helps, to explain his lack of an overt proclamation of his adoption of Aristotelian realism, occuring as it does almost as a casual by-product of this repudiation of Platonism. In Chapter VII, I qualify my position by arguing that, for the later Wittgenstein, language determines ontology, rather than the other way around, so that his realist ontology amounts only to his playing or describing language-games appropriate to realism, where these language-games are not themselves justified by appealing to any external standard such as 'the way reality is'. I include two appendices. In Appendix A, I argue that Wittgenstein's contention that language-games have no ultimate justification could have been utilized to avoid a misplaced attack on private objects. In Appendix B, I try to show that Wittgenstein had read Russell's The Problems of Philosophy and Our Knowledge of the External World. I also examine the influence of Ogden and Richards' The Meaning of Meaning on Wittgenstein's later work.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.

Usage Statistics