Wittgenstein and the Methodology of Semantics

In Ranjan Panda (ed.), Language, Mind and Reality: A Reflection on Philosophical Thoughts of R. C. Pradhan. Overseas Press (2015)
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R.C. Pradhan claims in Language, Reality, and Transcendence that, in Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and Philosophical Investigations, “[i]n no case is Wittgenstein interested in the empirical facts regarding language, as for him philosophy does not undertake any scientific study of language” (Pradhan 2009, xiv). I consider Ludwig Wittgenstein’s purportedly anti-scientific and anti-empirical approach to language in light of advances by philosophers and linguists in the latter half of the 20th century. I distinguish between various ways of understanding Wittgenstein’s stance against scientism. Due to the success of more recent work on language, I argue that Wittgenstein’s critique, as interpreted by Pradhan in Language, Reality, and Transcendence, does not undermine the formal study of language. Nevertheless, I argue, the contention of Wittgenstein and Pradhan that language, through grammar (in Wittgenstein’s sense), serves a variety of functions still sheds light on the differences in meaning across different discourses. I argue that a synthesis of Wittgenstein’s pluralist theory of meaning with elements of a theoretical study of language offers the best comprehensive account of natural language. I will argue that this conception of language is consistent with elements of Pradhan’s interpretation. As Pradhan notes, “The aim here is not to project one kind of grammatical determination but keep options open for many such grammatical determinations such that the grammatical nuances are not papered over in the name of the unity of grammar” (Pradhan 2009, 28).
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