Thoughts of the Tractatus: Mentalism vs. Non-Mentalism

Maija Aalto-Heinilä


The concept of Gedanke in Wittgenstein's Tractatus is a
controversial one. The few elucidations he gives of it seem to give rise to two
opposing interpretations. On the one hand, a thought is said to be a logical picture
of facts (TLP§3) and a proposition with a sense (TLP§4). This suggests a
non-mentalist reading of the concept, i.e. one according to which a thought is, in
its essence, no different from a written or spoken sentence: both depict states of
affairs in virtue of being combinations of signs that reflect the logical form of
reality. A non-mentalist interpretation of thoughts has been advocated, e.g. by
Mounce (1981), Winch (1987) and Carruthers (1989). On the other hand, Wittgenstein
makes a distinction between a proposition and a propositional sign, and says of the
latter that it needs to be projected onto reality before it is a genuine picture
(TLP§3.12). The method of projection is "to think of the sense of the
proposition" (TLP§3.11), which gives the impression that a mental process
of thinking is needed to give life to signs; in other words, that thoughts (being the
'units' of thinking) are prior to, and necessary preconditions of, the possibility of
linguistic representation. Such a mentalist or psychological interpretation has been
advanced, among others, by Kannisto (1986), Summerfield (1992), Malcolm (1993) and
Hacker (1996).


philosophy; 20th century philosophy; Wittgenstein Ludwig; thinking; proposition; mental element; psychology; language of thought; logical form; analysis

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