The picture theory of meaning states that statements are meaningful if, and only if, they can be defined or pictured in the real world.

The very notion of meaning as used here is argued against by Frege. As far as I understand, Frege says that there are two different aspects related to semantics: Sense and Reference. Wittgenstein says, in Frege's terminology, that only those with reference are those with sense.

However, a point that Frege tries to put out is that there are some sentences who have a sense without a reference. I conclude that Wittgenstein's theory is incompatible with Frege's theory.

Am I correct in the conclusion I derive? Or are there other things to be considered when comparing the two, which would make the conclusion different?

1 Answer 1


Not exactly.

See Tractatus, 3.13: A proposition, therefore, does not actually contain its sense, but does contain the possibility of expressing it. (‘The content of a proposition’ means the content of a proposition that has sense.) A proposition contains the form, but not the content, of its sense.

Thus, propositions have sense (they express a content).

And see 3.203: A name means an object. The object is its meaning. Also 3.3: Only propositions have sense; only in the nexus of a proposition does a name have meaning.

It is reasonable that this point of view is derived from B.Russell; see PoM, §476: "Meaning and indication. The distinction between meaning (Sinn) and indication (Bedeutung) is roughly, though not exactly, equivalent to my distinction between a concept as such and what the concept denotes. [...] We must distinguish, [Frege] says, the meaning, in which is contained the way of being given, from what is indicated (from the Bedeutung). The indication of a proper name is the object which it indicates; the presentation which goes with it is quite subjective; between the two lies the meaning, which is not subjective and yet is not the object. A proper name expresses its meaning, and indicates its indication. This theory of indication is more sweeping and general than mine, as appears from the fact that every proper name is supposed to have the two sides. It seems to me that only such proper names as are derived from concepts by means of the can be said to have meaning, and that such words as John merely indicate without meaning."

Regarding the "picture theory" and sense, see also What does bedeutung refer to in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus? as well as Making 'sense' of Wittgenstein's senselessness / nonsense distinction in the Tractatus and The Picture Theory of Meaning.

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