Picture theory of language  

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“For a large class of cases of the employment of the word ‘meaning’—though not for all—this word can be explained in this way: the meaning of a word is its use in the language” (PI 43)."


'Man kann für eine große Klasse von Fällen der Benützung des Wortes "Bedeutung" - wenn auch nicht für alle Fälle seiner Benützung - dieses Wort so erklären: Die Bedeutung eines Wortes ist sein Gebrauch in der Sprache“ (PU 43).

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The picture theory of language, also known as the picture theory of meaning, is a theory of linguistic reference and meaning articulated by Ludwig Wittgenstein in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Wittgenstein suggested that a meaningful proposition pictured a state of affairs or atomic fact. Wittgenstein compared the concept of logical pictures (German Bild) with spatial pictures. The picture theory of language is considered an early correspondence theory of truth.

Wittgenstein's picture theory of language states that statements are meaningful if they can be defined or pictured in the real world.

Wittgenstein's later practice-based theory of meaning laid out in the First Part of Philosophical Investigations refuted and replaced his earlier picture-based theory. However, the second psychology-focused Part of Philosophical Investigations employs the concept as a metaphor for human psychology.

Meaning is use

A common summary of his argument is that meaning is use—words are not defined by reference to the objects they designate, nor by the mental representations one might associate with them, but by how they are used. For example, this means there is no need to postulate that there is something called good that exists independently of any good deed. This anthropological perspective contrasts with Platonic realism and with Gottlob Frege's notions of sense and reference. This argument has been labeled by some authors as "anthropological holism."




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Picture theory of language" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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