WAB: "Fragments" | The following contribution is an excerpt from Kristóf Nyíri: "Wittgensteins philosophy of pictures", in: Alois Pichler and Simo Säätelä (eds.): Wittgenstein: The philosopher and his works, Working Papers from the Wittgenstein Archives at the University of Bergen no. 17, Wittgenstein Archives at the University of Bergen (WAB) 2005, pp. 281-312. Publication on WAB's website with kind permission from the author and the editors (2005.4.7).
Kristóf Nyíri: Wittgensteins philosophy of pictures1 The later Wittgenstein is interpreted as holding a use theory of pictures, according to which pictures by themselves do not carry any meaning; they acquire meaning by being put to specific uses and by being applied in specific contexts. Those uses and contexts are defined by language; pictures are subservient to words, and indeed not even mental images mean by virtue of their resemblance to some external reality.
Now of course neither the early nor the later views of Wittgenstein on picturing are as straightforward as common opinion suggests. Recall the Tractarian notion of the abbildende Beziehung, or pictorial relationship,2 a relationship consisting of the correlation of the pictures elements with things (TLP 2.1514). This pictorial relationship has exactly the same function as the later concept of a method of projection: the idea of convention is there in the Tractatus, too. Nor is the idea of resemblance missing from the Investigations.
The standard opinion did not go uncontested. In 1973 already Kenny emphasized that the picture theory needs supplementing rather than [being] false the theory of meaning as use is a complement rather than a rival to the picture theory.3 The discontinuity view, however, remains predominant. In his Picture Theory W.J.T. Mitchell writes in reference to Wittgenstein of a philosophical career that began with a picture theory of meaning and ended with the appearance of a kind of iconoclasm, a critique of imagery that led him to renounce his earlier pictorialism 4
Wittgensteins later philosophy of pictures has been taken note of in the so-called imagery debate. Fodor in his 1975 The Language of Thought paraphrases insertion (b) at § 139 of the Philosophical Investigations when he writes: A picture which corresponds to a man walking up a hill forward corresponds equally, and in the same way, to a man sliding down the hill backward.5 By omitting the second half of the passage Perhaps a Martian would describe the picture so. I do not need to explain why we do not describe it so Fodor fosters the one-sided image of an unequivocally propositionalist Wittgenstein. Fodors interpretation is taken up by Stephen Kosslyn, for many years the main protagonist on the images exist side of the imagery debate, in his 1994 book Image and Brain.6 For him, too, Wittgenstein stands for the view that pictures without a verbal interpretation cannot carry meaning.
Beyond the boundaries of the imagery debate Wittgensteins later philosophy of pictures has not received much attention. Thus from the very extended discussions surrounding Goodmans Languages of Art,7 Wittgensteins name is practically absent,8 even though one of the first reviewers of the work, Richard Wollheim, did to some extent rely on Wittgenstein.9 My suggestion is that the relative lack of interest in Wittgensteins later philosophy of pictures is not independent of the fact that his full Nachlass was, until the publication of the Bergen Electronic Edition, not actually available. The printed corpus only partially conveys the richness, complexities, continuities of, and changes in, Wittgensteins ideas on pictorial representation.10 And it fails to convey the significance of the later Wittgensteins method of explaining philosophical points with the help of diagrams his Nachlass contains some 1300 of them. This method would have made no sense if he had really adhered to the position that images do not have a meaning unless interpreted verbally.11