Wittgenstein claimed that syntax and semantics are the same because in some language constructions, syntax can be made to function as semantics. Since it seems like there is still some opposition to Wittgenstein's reasoning (from people like Searle who claim that syntax is indeed different from semantics) , what are the counter-arguments that have been made to Wittgenstein's reasoning?

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    Where did W claim that? Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 21:48
  • Are you referring to PI§43:"For a large class of cases - though not for all - in which we employ the word "meaning" it can be defined thus: the meaning of a word is its use in the language"? If so, Wittgenstein's "use in the language" does not reduce to syntax.
    – Conifold
    Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 22:34
  • @RamTobolski philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/34358/… , The second answer to this question. Commented Sep 9, 2016 at 8:10
  • This is tenuous. You are relying on an SE answer (by @coni), itself referring to some MA thesis? No actual reference to Wittgenstein anywhere. Commented Sep 9, 2016 at 13:26
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    The closest Wittgenstein comes to saying that semantics reduces to syntax is during the intermediate period and concerning mathematics specifically plato.stanford.edu/entries/wittgenstein-mathematics/… More broadly, he says that in "grammar", in his broad sense of all rules governing the use of expressions, no clear separation into syntax and semantics can be made. But Wittgenstein himself came to reject "all language is calculi" view in PI, even for mathematics.
    – Conifold
    Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 21:37

1 Answer 1


The most compelling argument against Wittgenstein's view is surely that given by Gödel in his famous theorems of Mathematical Logic.

What Gödel proved was that mathematical truth cannot in principle be confined to a formal system. In other words, truth is not reducible to proof. This is equivalent to saying that syntax cannot supplant semantics.

  • The incompleteness theorems? Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 17:15
  • @user2277550 Yes, the famous incompleteness theorems, that our mathematical intuition transcends formal systems.
    – nwr
    Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 17:28

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