Wittgenstein and semantic presuppositions generated by definite descriptions in subject-position
Margutti Pinto, Paulo Roberto
The purpose of this work is to characterize the problem of semantic presuppositions generated by definite descriptions in subject-position in the light of a reassessment of the semantic framework of the Russell/ Strawson controversy and analyze what would be the early and the later Wittgenstein's solution to such a problem. In the first part, the Russell/Strawson controversy is characterized. On the basis of Strawson's account, a general concept of semantic presupposition against which other theories may be tested is constructed. This allows the formulation of the problem above mentioned. Further analysis of the accounts involved reveals that Frege's concept of a 'semantic prerequisite' generated by definite descriptions in subject-position is an instance of the general concept. But Frege also held the view that simple proper names do not generate semantic prerequisites. The Fregean referential dualism suggests that the Russell/ Strawson controversy, as far as only these authors' accounts are involved, is undecidable at the purely semantic level. This is the semantic framework against which Wittgenstein's philosophies are tested in the second part. The "Tractatus" adopts a modified version of the Russellian Theory of Descriptions. Even so, the Tractarian account seems to be ultimately equivalent to Russell's. Further analysis reveals that the doctrine of simple signs in isolation, but not its conjunction with the picture theory, is consistent with the general concept of semantic presupposition. The "Investigations " adopts the programmatic principle of searching for the use of the words. But the question about the 'referring use' of descriptions in a specific language-game is consistent with, and in the spirit of, the "Investigations". The framework of the question involves the appeal to the Kripkean notions of 'semantic referent' and 'speaker's referent'. The analysis of the referring use in the language-game of reporting an event reveals that the later Wittgenstein tends to reject the semantic concept of presupposition. Further analysis reveals that he would tend to reject Russell's Theory of Descriptions and most of the variants of the pragmatic concept. The analysis seems to confirm that the Russell /Strawson dispute is idle at the purely semantic level. Even so, the later Wittgenstein's account of language is such that it is possible to imagine some particular language-games in which relationships occur that bear some analogies with the one of semantic presupposition.