Friday, July 5, 2013

Logical form

According to Wikipedia:
Norman Malcolm famously credits Sraffa with providing Ludwig Wittgenstein with the conceptual break that founded the Philosophical Investigations, by means of a rude gesture on Sraffa's part:
Wittgenstein was insisting that a proposition and that which it describes must have the same 'logical form', the same 'logical multiplicity'. Sraffa made a gesture, familiar to Neapolitans as meaning something like disgust or contempt, of brushing the underneath of his chin with an outward sweep of the finger-tips of one hand. And he asked: 'What is the logical form of that?'
Thanks to the New York Times, here it is:

They translate it as "I don't care."


  1. the versions i have always been shown looked a lot more vulgar and hostile than that!!

    then again i guess this is the new york times.

  2. Yes, I always imagined something more aggressive. Maybe it's the wrong gesture? Probably it's just the Times.

  3. The verbal expression that goes with the gesture is "Me ne frego." Web pages translate this, rather lamely, as "I don't give a damn," but the British "I don't give a toss" is much closer in meaning (though the Italian phrase ostensibly means the exact opposite: "I wank about that").

  4. Thanks! It sounds as though it's some sort of cross between "I could care less" (meaning I could not care less, of course) and "I don't give a toss."

    words as deeds...

  6. Interesting, thanks. I'm not sure about this part of the abstract: "This makes the spontaneous linguistic articulation of our sensations and impressions nondescriptive. Not descriptions, but expressions that seem more akin to behaviour than to language. I suggest that Wittgenstein uncovered a new species of speech acts. Far from the prearranged consecration of words into performatives, utterances are deeds through their very spontaneity. This gives language a new aura: the aura of the reflex action."

    There's quite a difference between a reflex action (as I understand the term) and a conventional gesture like the one pictured above. But of course I need to read the article before reaching a conclusion about it.

    1. well these later formalized gestures have to start somewhere and my conjecture here is that this particular improv was giving "voice" to something that was received as intended, that spoke to its audience if you will in such a way as to inspire imitation.

    2. I agree. Maybe this is the gesture as first used, or maybe it evolved from something else. But I assume it came from some spontaneous expression. And presumably words have a similar history. Or some of them do, anyway.

  7. 1) As far as visualisations of Sraffa's gesture go, I have always liked the drawing used by Karlheinz Lüdeking in "Pictures and Gestures" (British Journal of Aesthetics, 1990). It is what comes to my mind whenever I see the Sraffa anecdote being referred to.

    2) More importantly, Malcolm's famous version of the anecdote is wrong, and the competing version related by von Wright (which Malcolm acknowledges in a footnote) is right. That is, the claim was not about "logical form" but about whether "every proposition must have a grammar". Sraffa consistently endorsed von Wright's version in response to queries, and Wittgenstein himself refers indirectly to the incident in a remark in a 1937 manuscript dealing with "grammar" and not "logical form". See "Wittgenstein's 'Most Fruitful Ideas' and Sraffa" by Mauro Luiz Engelmann, published in the April issue of Philosophical Investigations.

    Of course this also means that the "conceptual break" cannot have been between the early and late Wittgensteins, but at most between the so-called middle and late Wittgensteins. So it is also in conflict with Malcolm's conventional (and I dare say outdated) two-Wittgenstein view. As Engelmann points out in his paper, this is also chronologically plausible, as Wittgenstein did not begin to have extensive discussions with Sraffa before he was well into his "middle" phase.

  8. Thanks! I'll have to look up Lüdeking's paper (I don't have access at home). And the correction to the anecdote is very helpful.