# A Critique Of Logical Atomism

5-19-1969

## Abstract

Logical atomism is Russell’s and early Wittgenstein’s view that world is composed of simple sensible, mutually independent atomic facts. Our everyday knowledge and statements of facts are vague. To clarify them we should analyze them till we reach unanalyzable, ultimate atomic facts based only on sense experience. An atomic fact is a particular having one character, or is two or more particulars in a relation. Only external relations hold among atomic acts. The truth of a compound proposition is determinable as a function of the truths of the atomic propositions involved. To dispense with internal relations among atomic facts, we need a system of external relations avoiding reference to experience. Mathematical logic leads to a formal system without empirical reference, for it starts with arbitrary logical symbols, terms, and postulates to reach a formal system through arbitrary inference rules. Truth-function is its dominant eternal relation. Reduction of mathematics to logic inspires confidence that we can house atomic facts successfully in a logical system. Logical atomism is incompatible with its implicit and explicit presuppositions. Its definition of number is question-begging. That to which mathematics is reduced is unclear. Sense experience of an atomic fact can be an atomic fact only as a residue of a compound fact whence the atomic fact sensed is separated. But such as residuary atomic fact is neither a characterized particular nor particulars in relation. The identities of its precise constituents as particulars, as character, or as relation cannot be determined consistently. And without this fact-experience, no atomic fact can be known at all. The kind of vagueness alleged to exist in ordinary knowledge of facts is neither specified nor substituted by an improvement. If vagueness consists in inconsistency, logical atomism is no better in this respect. If it consists in intensional unclarity, the nature of the character or the relations of particulars are unclear too. Due to neglecting the presuppositions implicit in analysis itself, analytical search for atomic facts is frustrated in specifying the exact nature of the constituents of atomic facts. How can a formal system avoid all reference to experience? Is it not based on thought? Can it plausibly explain thought at any of its own stages? Is thought no experience at all? Like analyst, formalist, too, attains implausibility by ignoring commitments involved in his formalizations. External relation of truth-function cannot perform the awkward task of rising to formal, experience-uncommitted heights from ontically committed atomic facts and then of descending, by a formal switch of a symbolic operation, to changed atomic facts. For example, "this spot is red” is an ontically committed atomic fact; "not" has nothing to do with experience; but "this spot is not red" is able to give us atomic facts that are numerous enough to exhaust the entire universe of discourse! Of course, "not" also changes the facts; here it gives all the facts that are inconsistent with "this spot is red." The "nonempirical" capacity of such external relations; for formal ascent and ontic descent remains mysterious.

Philosophy

Masters

Philosophy

Archie John Bahm

## Second Committee Member

Hubert Griggs Alexander

## Third Committee Member

Melbourne Griffith Evans

Howard N. Tuttle

English

Thesis

COinS