So all complex objects in the world are, at the most fundamental level, made up of simple un-analysable objects which are denoted by 'names'.

Combinations of simple objects constitute 'states of affairs'.

States of affairs are denoted by 'elementary propositions'.

Why couldn't a significantly developed state of affairs have an elementary proposition such as 'table', or 'green'?

I am aware of the thought experiment of a universe consisting of only, say, yellow and green. It is argued that the existence of green in one place would contradict the existence of yellow in another and since Wittgenstein asserts that elementary propositions are independent of one another this cannot be the case.

However, 'green' is not the same as 'green exists in place A' which would be a complex proposition, and would contradict 'yellow exists in place A'.

'Green' doesn't result in a contradiction of 'yellow'.

To reiterate my question: why can't elementary propositions be words such as 'table' or 'green'?


1 Answer 1


4.22 An elementary proposition consists of names. It is a nexus, a concatenation, of names.

4.221 It is obvious that the analysis of propositions must bring us to elementary propositions which consist of names in immediate combination.

4.23 It is only in the nexus of an elementary proposition that a name occurs in a proposition.

4.24 Names are the simple symbols: I indicate them by single letters (‘x’, ‘y’, ‘z’). I write elementary propositions as functions of names, so that they have the form ‘fx’, ‘φ(x,y)’, etc. Or I indicate them by the letters ‘p’, ‘q’, ‘r’.

Thus, The best "model" of Tractarian point of view is first-order logic : an elementary proposition is an atomic sentence : R(a), L(O,D).

Examples: "the apple is Red", "Othello Loves Desdemona", etc.

A "name" is not a proposition (sentence).

Elementary propositions are used to produce "complex" ones :

5 A proposition is a truth-function of elementary propositions.

Examples: "The apple is Red and Othello Loves Desdemona".

  • Thanks for your reply. In that case what would a complex proposition be? Following from 4.21, wouldn't an elementary proposition be 'Othello exists' (where this is a state of affairs), while 'Othello loves Desdemona' is a complex proposition? Commented Apr 20, 2018 at 11:46
  • @M.Guillaume - NO: both are elementary (atomic). See "5 A proposition is a truth-function of elementary propositions." Commented Apr 20, 2018 at 12:09
  • Does the elementary proposition 'Othello loves Desdemona' break down into composite elementary propositions (e.g. 'Othello exists', 'Othello is alive' etc.) as described in Russell's theory of descriptions? Commented Apr 20, 2018 at 14:01

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