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Title: Russell, Quine and Wittgenstein in pursuit of truth : a comparative study
Author: Alavinia, Sohrab
Awarding Body: University of Wales, Swansea
Current Institution: Swansea University
Date of Award: 1997
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Understanding the intellectual competition facing a philosopher gives a clearer sense of the depth of his work. This thesis is concerned with the reactions of Wittgenstein and Quine to Russell's foundationalism in epistemology. In particular it is concerned with the foundations of mathematics. Wittgenstein's conception of language is the deep source of his philosophy of mathematics. That is why the study of the Wittgensteinian account of mathematical truth goes beyond the limits of reflection on mathematics and extends to the philosophy of language and logic. The claim is that contrary to the framework of thought of both Russell and Quine, there is no language / reality dichotomy. Russell's search for indubitable foundations of knowledge and in particular his attempt to establish the foundations of mathematics in logic is misguided. The very supposition that mathematics needs foundations is an illusion. It is an attempt to transcend the bounds of sense. The epistemological riddles faced by Russell and Quine disappear in the later Wittgensteinian understanding of the matter. They collapse into logical insights. Following modern debates in epistemology, Russell is looking for a proof of the 'external world'. This traditional line of thought continues in Quine's notion of 'The myth of physical objects'. Though Quine's naturalized epistemology is a reaction against foundationalism, the dichotomy in question, still remains. This is finally disposed of, by Wittgenstein's later conception of language. To complete the layout of the discussions; it is demonstrated that the idea of the alleged dichotomy lies behind the arguments of Einstein, Hilbert and all of the logical positivists. Instead of pursuing the source of necessity of a pr/or/propositions in the world or in the mind, we may explore the function of such propositions. Once their role has been properly grasped, the very disturbing epistemological riddles disappear. The absolute certainty of the propositions of logic and mathematics resides in the role that they play in our practice of inference and calculation. According to Russell's account in Principia Mathematica it is a fundamental law of logic that the proposition 'Q' follows from the proposition 'P & (P -- Q)'. But what does this 'following' consist in? There is nothing in reality that provides a foundation for this inference. Logical and mathematical propositions define the techniques of inference and calculation. There is no foundation for our techniques that could justify them from the point of view of a non-participant in the practice. That is why it makes no sense to doubt logical or mathematical propositions. Russell's total loss of the 'objective world' is the inevitable outcome of his understanding of the problem. His scepticism concerning the ordinary empirical judgements is against the mastery of a technique in the practice of describing the world. Without that technique, we would be unable to think or to use language. Our certainty concerning these judgements is a practical certainty that shows how the expressions of our language are used. The function of these judgements makes the question of establishing their ground out of place.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available