Tuesday, October 31, 2006

1.11 The world is determined by the facts, and by these being all the facts.

Russell on facts (from Logical Atomism): He proposes to begin with truisms that are beyond doubt and need no justification, “truisms … so obvious that it is almost laughable to mention them.”[1] The first of these is “that the world contains facts, which are what they are whatever we may choose to think about them, and that there are also beliefs, which have reference to facts, and by reference to facts are either true or false.”[2] Facts are what make propositions true or false. They are objective but not particular (in the way that a particular person is particular, say). Since they cannot be false, it would be a mistake to say that they are all true.

Black (p. 36) says that ‘determined’ (bestimmt) here does not mean ‘stipulated’, as it does in some places, but something more like ‘necessitated.’

My original reaction: A problem here. Isn't it a fact that these are all the facts? So wouldn't it be enough to say "determined by the facts"? And is it a fact that these are all the facts? And is that a fact? Perhaps there is no problem. My (entirely fictional) running might make me fit, without the fact that I run making me fit. At least someone with a metaphysics of facts might want to deny causal powers to them. Maybe this is what Wittgenstein has in mind. Or maybe the metaphysical doctrine he is putting forward is (intentionally or not) incoherent almost from the very start. Or maybe all we have been given so far is definitions, or even pseudo-definitions (like: I will use 'fraggle' and 'spling' to mean the same thing. This is a kind of definition, but it might turn out that I don't use these words to mean anything really). Perhaps Wittgenstein is saying: when I say "the world" I will mean the same as when I say "the totality of facts." It could turn out to be the same nothing in each case.

[1] Ibid., p. 163.

[2] Ibid.

Monday, October 30, 2006

1.1 The world is the totality of facts, not of things.

Max Black (p. 27) says that this distinction is “the outstanding innovation of Wittgenstein’s ontology,” distinguishing him from all the most famous philosophers from Aristotle to the early Russell. The universe is implicitly not a thing, not something that can be referred to by a name. See Black pp. 27-28. Black takes Wittgenstein’s references to “the world” to mean the universe, explaining on p. 29 that this use is more common in German than it is in English.

Ostrow (pp. 21-22) notes that 1.1 sounds like a statement of metaphysical realism, and has been taken as such by numerous commentators, while others read him as being a kind of idealist (for instance, a solipsist). Yet 5.64 suggests that Wittgenstein rejected the realism-idealism dichotomy. On p. 23, Ostrow quotes Wittgenstein later saying to Desmond Lee that the opening of the Tractatus says that: “The world does not consist of a catalogue of things and facts about them (like a catalogue of a show)…. What the world is is given by description and not by a list of objects.”[1] Ostrow (p. 73) says: “The logical object is not a thing, but, we might say, a way of regarding the components of our genuine propositions; it is the propositional constituent viewed in a special light.” At 4.1272 Wittgenstein calls the concept of an object a pseudo-concept.

Like 1, this remark sounds metaphysical, since a fact seems to be a certain combination of things, so relations are presented as part of the ultimate nature of the world. Atomism of a certain kind seems to be denied (to go beyond the level of things-in-relations is to go too far), but the plural of Tatsachen (facts) seems to deny the kind of all-is-one(-big-fact) metaphysics that people attribute to Bradley, et al. (quite rightly, as far as I know, which is not far). On the other hand, it could be another uninformative definition, of "the world" or of "facts." We might think that we know what facts and things are, but we should not presume too much. At A292 (B 348) Kant gives a table showing the division of the concept of nothing [des Begriffs des Nichts], and says that the division of something [Etwas] follows from this. The “object of a concept to which no assignable intuition whatsoever corresponds is = nothing.” [“der Gegenstand eines Begriffs, dem gar keine anzugebende Anschauung korrespondiert, = Nichts”] (A 290/B 347) He compares such a concept without an object to noumena, saying they cannot be reckoned among the possibilities, but must not be declared impossible. “The supreme concept with which it is customary to begin a transcendental philosophy is the division into the possible and the impossible. But since all division presupposes a concept to be divided, a still higher one is required, and this is the concept of an object in general, taken problematically, without its having been decided whether it is something or nothing.” (A 290/B 346) Cf. A 279/B 335: “the representation of an object as a thing in general is not only insufficient, but, when taken without sensible determination, and independently of any empirical condition, self-contradictory.” So, according to Kant, the very notion of a thing in general without sensible determination (is this what Wittgenstein means by ‘thing’?) is self-contradictory. If a “thing” is the object of a concept to which no assignable intuition whatsoever corresponds, then, according to Kant, we are dealing with nothing. And the concept of the thing would in that case be the concept of the nothing, something we associate with Heidegger far more than with Wittgenstein, his supposed opposite and implied enemy. But, of course, Wittgenstein’s notion of a thing might not be this at all. We simply do not know what it is, which is my main point. He certainly was not trying to say anything about Heidegger, whose Being and Time would not be published until several years after the Tractatus. But both would have been familiar with Kant’s thoughts on des Begriffs des Nichts and the problematic concept of an object in general. It is worth pointing out here that “problematic” is something of a technical term for Kant. Kant A 254/B 310: “If the objective reality of a concept cannot be in any way known, while yet the concept contains no contradiction and also at the same time is connected with other modes of knowledge that involve given concepts which it serves to limit, I entitle that concept problematic.” The concept of a noumenon (made much of by Schopenhauer, Wittgenstein’s teenage philosophical hero) is such a concept, and so the idea of a problematic concept is of great importance to Kant, and would have been well known to Wittgenstein (and Heidegger). To repeat: I am not saying that Wittgenstein meant his reader to think of Kant at this point, nor that what Kant says is right. My main point is simply that we should not be too confident that we know what ‘thing’ means, just because it is such an ordinary word. It might mean something trivial, something difficult and Kantian, or something else entirely. We simply do not know yet. (My secondary point is that we ought to take the possibility of something Kantian going on here quite seriously.)

Another way to see this is to consider the work of Wittgenstein’s main teacher, Bertrand Russell. Consider The Problems of Philosophy, the introductory philosophy book that Russell published in 1912, just when he was introducing Wittgenstein to philosophy. In this book on p. 49 “my seeing the sun” is called an object, and on p. 51 he says that: “when I am acquainted with my seeing the sun, the whole fact [NB] with which I am acquainted is ‘Self-acquainted-with-sense-datum’.” The difference between objects and facts is not commonsensical in Russell’s philosophy, and we should not simply assume that it is in Wittgenstein’s. Consider also Russell’s notion of a term in The Principles of Mathematics: “Whatever may be an object of thought, or may occur in any true or false proposition, or can be counted as one, I call a term. This, then, is the widest word in the philosophical vocabulary. I shall use as synonymous with it the words unit, individual, and entity. A man, a moment, a number, a class, a relation, a chimaera, or anything else that can be mentioned, is sure to be a term; and to deny that such and such a thing is a term must always be false.” (p. 43) Facts and things, it would seem, would both count as terms, and the difference between them, if any, would remain to be explained. See also Frege: “Places, instants, stretches of time, logically considered, are objects,” p. 42— “On Sinn und Bedeutung” in The Frege Reader.

Frege also has a notion of fact that is worth bearing in mind here. The only thing that can be true is the sense of sentences (as distinct from their tone, which is irrelevant to their truth). This Frege calls a thought. Thoughts are senses of sentences, but not every sense of a sentence is a thought. Thoughts are imperceptible. We may see the sun rise, but we do not in the same sense see that the sun rises. That the sun is rising, is a thought. The sentence “The sun is rising” expresses this thought. Thoughts are not external, perceptible objects, but neither are they private, subjective, individual, psychological ideas. “A third realm must be recognized.” (see The Frege Reader p. 69)

Think also of Russell in Logical Atomism. These were lectures given in early 1918, which Russell describes as “very largely concerned with explaining certain ideas which I learnt from my friend and former pupil Ludwig Wittgenstein.”[2] Russell had not seen or heard from Wittgenstein since August 1914. “The reason that I call my doctrine logical atomism is because the atoms that I wish to arrive at as the sort of last residue in analysis are logical atoms and not physical atoms. Some of them will be what I call “particulars”—such things as little patches of colour or sounds, momentary things—and some of them will be predicates or relations and so on. The point is that the atom I wish to arrive at is the atom of logical analysis, not the atom of physical analysis.”[3]

In his Notebooks Wittgenstein wrote that “Properties and relations are objects too.” (16/6/1915) Anscombe says (p. 109, footnote) that he no longer holds this view in the Tractatus. If he did, it would have been “an incredible omission” not to have made it clear, and other things he says about functions and elementary propositions could not be reconciled with each other. And yet, as Ostrow notes (p. 49), in 1930-31 Wittgenstein is reported to have said that, “’Objects’ also include relations: a proposition is not two things connected by a relation. ‘Thing’ and ‘relation’ are on the same level. The objects hang as it were in a chain.” (Cambridge Lectures p. 120)

Anscombe also (p. 19) writes: “The world is the totality of facts—i.e. of the counterparts in reality of true propositions. And nothing but picturable situations can be stated in propositions. There is indeed much that is inexpressible—which we must not try to state, but must contemplate without words.” This “much” would then not belong to the world. Odd. She also says (p. 162): “the things that would be true if they could be said are obviously important.”

Frege asked Wittgenstein how “The world is the totality of facts” differs from “The world is everything that is the case.” Wittgenstein’s reply was that: “The meaning of these two sentences are one and the same but not the conceptions (Vorstellungen) that I associated with them when I wrote them down.” This is in Gottlob Frege “Briefe an Ludwig Wittgenstein” in Brian McGuinness and Rudolf Haller (eds) Wittenstein in Focus – Im Brennpunkt: Wittgenstein, Amsterdam: Rosopi, 1989, pp. 3-33, p. 22, quoted in Nordmann p. 124, note 70. Nordmann comments that: “Frege takes this to agree with his own distinction between sense and reference,” but this cannot be right. While Frege does indeed distinguish between what he calls (as Nordmann goes on to quote) “the actual meaning of the sentence” and “the conceptions someone associates with the sentence,” this is not the distinction he makes between sense (Sinn) and reference (Bedeutung). For Frege, Vorstellungen (conceptions or ideas) are purely, indeed necessarily, individual or private, while sense can be common property. Ideas are irrelevant, while sense determines reference. See p. 29 (p. 154 in Beaney’s reader) for Frege’s explicit distinction between Vorstellung and both Sinn and Bedeuntung. One wonders whether the meaning that is the same is precisely no meaning at all (as Nordmann suggests on p. 168), and whether individual, psychological associated ideas are all that is meant to distinguish other sentences in the TLP. See 6.54. Nordmann’s view is that these two sentences have no sense but are able nevertheless to make sense. I think this is a problematic idea.

[1] Wittgenstein’s Lectures, Cambridge, 1930-32 p. 119.

[2] Collected Papers Volume 8 p. 160.

[3] Ibid., p. 161.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

1. The world is everything that is the case.

Using "all" for alles introduces an ambiguity (as if other things might be the case too, but happen not to be). "Everything" is slightly unfortunate, given 1.1, but then that removes a possible misreading of 1, which is part of what it is for.

Gordon C. F. Bearn says, in Waking to Wonder: Wittgenstein’s Existential Investigations (SUNY Press, Albany, 1997), p. 47 (and note 51 on pp. 227-228), that the comma after alles in ‘Die Welt is alles, was der Fall ist,’ strengthens the sense given here that there is nothing else beside the world. So maybe it should be "The world is all that is the case," or even "The world is the only thing that is the case." On p. 49, Bearn notes that, “If what is the case might not have been, then logically prior to whatever is the case is whatever might either have been or not have been the case. (In the Tractatus these are states of affairs, combinations of objects.” This reminds me of Kant—see note to TLP 1.1.

This first proposition sounds like a metaphysical truth of some importance, but could it be instead a merely stipulative definition? Or something else, something more problematic? We can only read on and hope that it becomes clear.

Julian Young says: “In the first book of The World as Will … Schopenhauer says that the problem of philosophy is to say ‘what’ the world is. (WR I: 82). Sometimes he says that it is to solve the ‘riddle’ (Rätsel) of what the world is. Given the rootedness of this word in German folk tales where solving a ‘riddle’ is often a matter of life and death, this suggests that an answer to the question, rather than merely satisfying the curiosity of armchair investigators, will have existential implications, will have an effect on our lives.”[1] The world presents itself to us as a mystery or riddle. As when decoding a cipher, we can be confident that we have the right solution when the result makes sense, even if we cannot compare it with something else and see that they match. See vol. II pp. 390-392. Our solution must, as it were, justify itself. And experience generally is explained by Schopenhauer’s theory, he believes. It explains nothing beyond the world though, or beyond our experience of the world. Demanding more would be asking for “something that the human intellect is absolutely incapable of grasping and thinking.”[2]

In Book III Schopenhauer says that what is characteristic of the stance of art is that in this stance we consider only the what, not the where, when, why or whither in things. This implies that philosophy has something in common with art, and especially (perhaps) poetry. Young gives the reference here as WR I: 178. Connect this also, perhaps, with TLP 6.432 and 6.44. In Book Three §34 Schopenhauer quotes Spinoza: “The mind is eternal in so far as it understands under the aspect of eternity.” (Ethics V. 31, note). Later (same section, p. 104 in the Everyman edition), Schopenhauer writes: “Anyone who immerses himself in the contemplation of nature so that he continues to exist only as the pure knowing subject, becomes directly conscious that, as such, he is the condition, that is, the one who bears the burden of the world and all objective existence; for this now shows itself to be dependent upon his existence.”

The full quotation from Schopenhauer is that in aesthetic experience:

“we no longer consider the where, the when, the why, and the whither in things, but simply and solely the what. Further, we do not let abstract thought, the concepts of reason, take possession of our consciousness, but instead of all this, devote the whole power of our mind to perception, sink ourselves completely therein, and let our whole consciousness be filled by the calm contemplation of the natural object actually present, whether it be a landscape, a tree, a rock, a crag, a building, or anything else. We lose ourselves entirely in this object, to use a pregnant expression; in other words, we forget our individuality, our will, and continue to exist only as pure subject, as clear mirror of the object, so that it is as though the object alone existed without anyone to perceive it, and thus we are no longer able to separate the perceiver from the perception, but the two have become one. … What is thus known is no longer the individual thing as such, but the Idea … at the same time, the person who is involved in the perception is no longer an individual, for in such perception the individual has lost himself; he is pure will-less, painless, timeless subject of knowledge It was this that was in Spinoza’s mind when he wrote ‘mens aeterna est, quatenus res sub aeternitatis specie concipit’ (Ethics, V, prop. 31, schol.)” (WWR vol. I, pp 178-79)

Cf. Notebooks 7/10/16 and TLP 6.45

(Idle thought: compare LW on looking at a stove with Descartes meditating by a stove.)

According to Schopenhauer, genius consists in pre-eminent capacity for such contemplation. (see §36, p. 109 in Everyman) “[A]rt pauses at this particular thing; it stops the wheel of time, for art the relations vanish; only the essential, the Idea, is its object.

“We may, therefore, accurately define it as the way of viewing things independent of the principle of sufficient reason, in opposition to the way of viewing them which proceeds in accordance with that principle, and which is the method of experience and of science.”[3]

“[T]he logical method of mathematics is repugnant to genius…”[4]

The sense of the beautiful comes when we contemplate in the will-less way described above imperceptibly, without struggle. Everything is beautiful, as Dutch still-lifes show. It’s a matter of how you look at things.

The sense of the sublime, in contrast, involves a conscious overcoming of the will. Empty, lonely places are best suited to such a sense, and the capacity to endure solitude is to some extent a measure of one’s intellectual worth. The opposite of the sublime is the charming (which includes the negative charming, i.e. the disgusting).

In relation to Wittgenstein’s feeling of being absolutely safe (which he links with ethics in his lecture on ethics): “Goethe says [The Elective Affinities I, Chap. 6:] ‘No ill can touch him who looks on human beauty; he feels himself at one with himself and with the world.’”[5]

Compare with TLP 6.45.

More Schopenhauer: “[A]nyone who has followed me and entered into my mode of thought will not be surprised if I say that, supposing it were possible to give a perfectly accurate, complete, even detailed, explanation of music – that is to say, to reproduce minutely in concepts what it expresses – this would also be a sufficient reproduction and explanation of the world in concepts, or at least equivalent to such an explanation, and thus it would be the true philosophy.” [6]

Like Schop (and many others), LW sees a problem with Kant’s distinguishing between the knowable phenomenal and the in principle unknowable noumenal, since this very distinction implies some knowledge of the allegedly unknowable. Yet Schop too talks at length about the thing in itself, despite sometimes suggesting that he knows there is something wrong with this. See WWR trans. Payne, vol. 2, p. 197. LW avoids this problem by talking not about limits to what humans can know, but about the limits of meaningful discourse. Glock says: “Instead of issuing doctrines about where the limits of thought lie, philosophy delineates the linguistic rules which determine whether a combination of signs makes sense, that is, capable of representing the world.”[7] [sic]

[1] J. Young Schopenhauer (Routledge, New York, 2005), p. 17.

[2] WWI, trans. Haldane and Kemp, vol. II, p. 392.

[3] Everyman pp. 108-9 (Book Three §36).

[4] Ibid., p. 113.

[5] Ibid., p. 142.

[6] Ibid., p. 172.

[7] Hans-Johann Glock “Schopenhauer and Wittgenstein: Language as Representation and Will,” in Christopher Janaway (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Schopenhauer Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999, pp. 422-458, p. 433.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Foreword: Part Four

I do not want to judge how far my efforts coincide with those of other philosophers. Indeed what I have written here makes no particular claim to novelty; and therefore I give no sources, because it is all the same to me if what I have thought has already been thought by another before me.

I will mention only that I owe a large part of the stimulus to my thoughts to the great works of Frege and to the work of my friend Mr. Bertrand Russell.

If this effort has a value then it consists in two things. First in that thoughts are expressed in it, and this value will be the greater the better the thoughts are expressed. The more the nail has been hit on the head. – Here I am aware of falling far short of what is possible. Simply because my ability to accomplish the task is too slight. – May others come and do it better.

On the other hand the truth of the thoughts communicated here seems to me unassailable and definitive. I am therefore of the opinion that the problems have in essentials been finally solved. And if I am not wrong in this, then the value of this work now consists secondly in that it shows how little has been achieved by the solving of these problems.

L. W.

Vienna, 1918.

Cf. Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. A xiii: “In this enquiry I have made completeness my chief aim, and I venture to assert that there is not a single metaphysical problem which has not been solved, or for the solution of which the key at least has not been supplied.” (Metaphysics is the battlefield of the (till now) endless controversies concerning questions that human reason can neither ignore nor solve.)

A xiii-xiv: “While I am saying this I can fancy that I detect in the face of the reader an expression of indignation, mingled with contempt, at pretensions seemingly so arrogant and vain-glorious. Yet they are incomparably more moderate than the claims of all those writers who on the lines of the usual programme profess to prove the simple nature of the soul or the necessity of a first beginning of the world. For while such writers pledge themselves to extend human knowledge beyond all limits of possible experience, I humbly confess that this is entirely beyond my power.”

Kant's task is to see what reason can achieve without help from experience. For such an enquiry, certainty and clearness are essential (see A xv). For the sake of certainty, there must be no opinions or hypotheses. For the sake of clarity, everything must be quite logical and there must be examples given. But Kant has not given as many examples as the reader might like, because that would make the book too long, and then it would take too long to get a sense of the overall system. A xviii-xix: “Abbot Terrasson has remarked that if the size of a volume be measured not by the number of its pages but by the time required for mastering it, it can be said of many a book, that it would be much shorter if it were not so short.” On the other hand, a book might be much clearer if it had not tried so hard to be clear. Wittgenstein’s book is short in the literal sense, but possibly very long indeed in terms of how long it takes to master it. It is written as if it contains no opinions or hypotheses, and its use of examples is about the same as Kant’s. Wittgenstein’s “modesty” is the same as Kant’s, or parallel with it at least, we are presumably meant to think, although whether it is possible to compare oneself, however implicitly, with Kant and remain modest is, shall we say, open to debate. Kant’s motivation was moral, and perhaps we are expected to think of something similar in Wittgenstein’s case. See Kant at B xxiv: “On a cursory view of the present work it may seem that its results are merely negative, warning us that we must never venture with speculative reason beyond the limits of experience. Such is in fact its primary use. But such teaching at once acquires a positive value when we recognize that the principles with which speculative reason ventures out beyond its proper limits do not in effect extend the employment of reason, but, as we find in closer scrutiny, inevitably narrow it.” Kant aims to limit speculative reason and thereby to remove an obstacle that threatens to destroy (see B xxv) the employment of practical reason. The positive value of his work becomes clear once we agree with him “that there is an absolutely necessary practical employment of pure reason—the moral—in which it inevitably goes beyond the limits of sensibility.” [B xxv] According to Kant, people should stop speculating about things they can never understand (God, etc.) and instead focus on the possible sciences, i.e. areas where real knowledge is possible. TLP 6.53 is reminiscent of this ideal.

Wittgenstein might be understood as sharing Kant’s goal, but as taking, with Martin Heidegger, a more metaphysical view of ethics. I.e., for them, ethics is more about how we conceive of/react to the world than of anything like the categorical imperative. It is not, for instance, that Hobbes’ materialist metaphysics leads to bad morals. It is a morally bad metaphysics to begin with. At A ix Kant mocks Locke’s metaphysics by comparing it with the fictional line of inheritance supposed to justify the divine right of kings which Locke takes apart in his first treatise on government. So Kant already sees empiricism as false and pernicious, but what is untrue and dangerous is not thereby intrinsically bad, in the way that, I think, Wittgenstein and Heidegger saw it.

It has been noted before (by Anscombe and Diamond, for instance) that Frege seems to be praised much more highly than Russell in Wittgenstein's foreword, although Russell really was a friend, so why would Wittgenstein deliberately slight him? On p. 173 of Schopenhauer’s Fourfold Root he complains about references to “the works of ‘Hegel’s gigantic mind,’ of the ‘great Schleiermacher,’ and of the ‘sagacious and discerning Herbart.’” The effect, he says, is that people go off and waste their time studying these people when they could and should be studying Kant instead. Perhaps Wittgenstein's reference to the great works of Frege was simply an attempt to encourage more people to read Frege.

What is so great about Frege? Joan Weiner: “What Frege has to offer us is a model of philosophical virtue. Almost everyone who has grappled with Frege’s writings has been moved by Frege’s intellectual honesty.” (“Frege in Perspective,” p. 12 ) Michael Beaney: “Frege’s account in the Begriffsschrift is a model of clarity, economy, and elegance, achieved with none of the effort or tortured philosophical excursions that seemed to mark Russell’s path to the same point.”[1] Maybe we shouldn’t read too much into his acknowledgements.

Proops argues that Russell was more influential than is often thought, both on Wittgenstein’s own ideas and on his understanding of Frege’s. Like Anscombe, Proops thinks that Wittgenstein misunderstood Frege on some points, and sees Russell’s influence at work in these cases. On p. xix Proops quotes several instances of Wittgenstein’s writing in 1912 of “our problems,” “our theory,” and so on, meaning his and Russell’s. This, he thinks, is significant, because it was only in the next year that Wittgenstein wrote his Notes on Logic, much of which was copied directly into the Tractatus. He referred to that work as a summary of what he had done at Cambridge up to that point. However, as Proops notes, even as early as 1913 Wittgenstein wrote about his work in a noticeably less collaborative way. He now criticizes Russell’s theories. In 1919 he referred to the problems dealt with in the TLP as “our problems” (i.e. his and Russell’s), but the solutions are his alone.[2] In Letters p. 111 (dated March 1919), he says that the TLP “upsets all our theory of truth, of classes, of numbers and all the rest.” There is also 6.54, of course. Proops emphasizes the importance of the Notes on Logic (1913) and Notes Dictated to G. E. Moore (1914) largely because Wittgenstein referred (in May 1915) to the latter as “essentially … definitive” only a few months, if Brian McGuinness is correct, before he began work on what was later called the Prototractatus.[3] And the Prototractatus is quite close to the Tractatus proper. But this is not much to go on, especially given that in the same letter in which he said that he regarded the Moore notes “essentially as definitive,” he also wrote that his problems were changing, becoming “more and more lapidary and general” and that his method for dealing with them had “changed dramatically.” As Monk notes (see p. 130), Wittgenstein’s work changed more drastically in the next two years, moving from logic to ethics and philosophy in general. Since these are the subjects that he presented the book as being all about (ethics to Ludwig von Ficker, philosophy in general to the readers of the Tractatus’ foreword), we should keep an open mind as to whether remarks copied from the Prototractatus or Notes on Logic have the same point, serve the same function, in the Tractatus as in those earlier works. On p. 173 of Schopenhauer’s Fourfold Root he complains about references to “the works of ‘Hegel’s gigantic mind,’ of the ‘great Schleiermacher,’ and of the ‘sagacious and discerning Herbart.’” The effect, he says, is that people go off and waste their time studying these people when they could and should be studying Kant instead. Perhaps Wittgenstein's reference to the great works of Frege was simply an attempt to encourage more people to read Frege.

What is the aim of the book generally? Its aim is variously described: it is show not only that it is a mistake to pose philosophical questions but that this mistake is caused by misunderstanding the logic of our language. The possessive pronoun could be important here. It certainly seems to be in Wittgenstein’s later philosophy. Such misunderstanding can perhaps be characterized as a failure to appreciate that what can be said at all can be said clearly (or: that whereof one cannot speak thereof one must be silent). At whom might this be aimed? Frege? At all philosophers, presumably. That is, at anyone who poses or formulates a philosophical question. These, again presumably, are questions that somehow require us to speak whereof we cannot speak, to speak in a way that is inherently or essentially unclear. The essence of philosophy, it seems, is nonsense. (So how much for the great works of Frege after all?) The book wants to set out the limits of thought. Or rather, it wants to set out the limits of the expression of thought. Because there is a contradiction involved in the idea of the limit of thinking. So, there is no such thing as “the limit of thinking” but the book wants to draw, as a substitute, a limit to the expression of thoughts. If we cannot think of a limit of thought, can we speak of a limit of speaking? Meaningfully? If there is no thought limit but there is a speaking limit, mustn’t there be un-sayable thoughts? Some people think so, but surely Wittgenstein is not one of them. The limit of thought is not contingently non-existent but inconceivable, according to him. So to say “there is no limit to thought” is to say something of a very different kind than “there is no limit to the expression of thought”. The limit to what can be said can only be contingent. Only “the unthinkable” (i.e. sheer nonsense) and the unpronounceable are un-sayable. Indeed Wittgenstein says that what lies beyond the boundary he would draw is simply nonsense. Not ineffable truth. The limit of thought cannot be thought because one cannot think the unthinkable, so the only way to draw the limit would be by going right up to it from the side of the thinkable. But one would need to know that this was the limit, and how could you ever think that you had gone as far as thoughts can go without thinking about going farther (and thereby getting into some sort of trouble)? With saying, though, one can ‘go beyond’ the limit in the sense that one can indeed pass over into nonsense. This is what it means to speak the unsayable. So if the aim of the book is to draw a limit to the expression of thought we should expect it to pass from sense to nonsense, and to do so in such a way that the passage is quite clear. This does not mean that we will see Wittgenstein talk clear sense and then clear nonsense, because this would not take us through the limit. Rather, we will have to pay careful attention so that when we come across nonsense we will recognize it for what it is. But this will be done, we can expect, in as precise or clean a way as possible. I think we might also expect the transition to be made several times, in case we miss it once or twice. So the aim of the book is to show that philosophy is all just a lot of nonsense. No wonder he avoids giving “credit” to other philosophers, except those who have helped him realize this. How then can part of the value lie in thoughts’ being expressed in it? Well, why should it matter how well these are expressed? Because they need to be captured. The wrong-headed philosophers must recognize their own mistakes. The victim must not be a straw man. Hence the false modesty of Wittgenstein’s confession of his inability to write such nonsense. And the irony of his expectation that others may come and be more perfectly nonsensical.

What, finally, of the truth of the thoughts communicated by the book? These must be other thoughts, such as the thought that philosophy is all nonsense. Proops (p. xv, note 3) says” “An advocate of a Diamond-style reading might claim that the only thoughts communicated in the Tractatus are the critical statements made against other authors, together, perhaps, with the general thoughts about the nonsensical status of philosophical pronouncements.” But I think we can read the foreword closely and thereby see quite clearly what he means. For one thing, in the second paragraph he tells us that the whole meaning or point [Sinn] of the book could be put thus: “What can be said at all, can be said clearly; and whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” These thoughts must be taken as true by Wittgenstein, but not necessarily any others. It is, he says, because of the truth of his thoughts being unassailable and definitive that he believes that the problems of philosophy with which the book deals have essentially been solved. So whatever thoughts it is that he takes to be so certainly true, they are ones that he considers to be uncontestable, and pertaining to the essence of philosophy. We should not expect these to be this truth and that truth, but a small number of essential and undeniable truths. This expectation might be disappointed, of course, and what counts as a small number is vague, but the truths just quoted above fit the bill. They also fit with the idea that Wittgenstein connects with these truths, that they show how little solving these problems achieves. So we should expect a degree of banality about the truths, and again “What can be said at all, can be said clearly; and whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” suits. In other words, the Diamond-style advocate need not go as far as Proops presents here, even though he might think that this is a pretty minimal claim in the first place.

[1] “Russell and Frege” p. 138, in Nicholas Griffin (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Bertrand Russell (CUP, 2003).

[2] See Ian Proops Logic and Language in Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, Garland Publishing, Inc., New York and London, 2000, p. xix.

[3] See Proops p. xxi, and McGuinness pp. 35-47.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Foreword: Part Three

The book would thus draw a limit to thinking, or rather – not to thinking, but rather to the expression of thoughts: Because in order to draw a limit to thinking, we would have to be able to think both sides of this limit (we would thus have to be able to think what cannot be thought).

So the limit can only be drawn in language and what lies on the other side of the limit will simply be nonsense.

The last words of that sentence are einfach Unsinn. Literally they mean ‘simply nonsense,’ not ‘simple nonsense,’ which would be einfacher Unsinn. There has been some disagreement about this, and much discussion, but it is cleared up in Nordmann, p. 82, note 48. That is, how these two words should be translated is cleared up there. What to make of them is another matter.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Foreword: Part Two

The book deals with the problems of philosophy and shows – so I believe – that the formulation of questions about these problems is due to misunderstanding the logic of our language. One could put the whole sense of the book perhaps in these words: What can be said at all, can be said clearly; and whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

We might think here again of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason: “The exactness of mathematics rests upon definitions, axioms and demonstrations. I shall content myself with showing that none of these, in the sense in which they are understood by the mathematician, can be achieved or imitated by the philosopher. I shall show that in philosophy the geometrician can by his method build only so many houses of cards [Kartengebäude], just as in mathematics the employment of a philosophical method results only in mere talk. Indeed it is precisely in knowing its limits that philosophy consists…” (A 726-727/B 754-755) It is to mere talk and houses of cards that Wittgenstein means to put an end, by showing philosophy its limits. If he can do this, then he will have done (and done with, once and for all) philosophy as Kant defines it here. There is an ethical aspect to this. Again quoting Kant: “it is not in keeping with the nature of philosophy, especially in the field of pure reason, to take pride in dogmatic procedure, and to deck itself out with the title and insignia of mathematics, to whose ranks it does not belong, though it has every ground to hope for a sisterly union with it. Such pretensions are idle claims which can never be satisfied, and indeed must divert philosophy from its true purpose, namely, to expose the illusions of a reason that forgets its limits, and by sufficiently clarifying our concepts to recall it from its presumptuous speculative pursuits to modest but thorough self-knowledge.” (A 735/B 763) The enemy is idle pretense, and the goal modest self-knowledge. Philosophy, know thyself. “Indeed, it is precisely in knowing its limits that philosophy consists.”

Russell’s views are worth comparing with these. Russell sees religion/ethics on the one hand, and science on the other, as leading people to philosophize. Some philosophers are motivated only by one or the other, others by both. But it is from science alone that philosophy ought to take its inspiration. It is the methods of science, not its results, that are most relevant here. Philosophy is the science of the possible, an a priori investigation of quite general truths. Therefore philosophy is logic, conceived in the right way. The essence of such philosophy is analysis, not synthesis.

“The adoption of scientific method in philosophy, if I am not mistaken, compels us to abandon the hope of solving many of the more ambitious and humanly interesting problems of traditional philosophy. Some of these it relegates, though with little expectation of a successful solution, to special sciences, others it shows to be such as our capacities are essentially incapable of solving. The failure of philosophy hitherto has been due in the main to haste and ambition; patience and modesty, here as in other sciences, will open the road to solid and durable progress.”[1]

Cf. also Schopenhauer Fourfold Root pp. 155-156: “[E]very … analysis that has sprung from mere combinations of concepts is like the note of a bank which for security has again merely deposited other promissory notes. All purely rational talk is thus an elucidation of what follows from given concepts, and so does not really bring anything new to light. It could therefore be left to everyone to do for himself, instead of being put every day into large volumes.”

[1] Last paragraph of “On Scientific Method in Philosophy” p. 119 of Mysticism and Logic, originally given as the Herbert Spencer lecture at Oxford in 1914.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Foreword: Part One


This book will perhaps only be understood by one who has himself already at some time thought the thoughts that are expressed herein – or at least similar thoughts. –It is therefore not a textbook.—Its end would be reached if it gave pleasure to one person who read it with understanding.

Compare Russell on Frege: Of Frege’s Begriffsschrift Russell writes “I possessed the book for years before I could make out what it meant. Indeed, I did not understand it until I had myself independently discovered most of what it contained.” (Autobiography p. 65, cf. Principles of Mathematics p. xxiii, says Michael Beaney in the Cambridge Companion to Russell p. 131)

More speculatively, also compare Kant[i]: “Analytic judgments really teach us nothing more about the object than what the concept which we have of it already contains; they do not extend our knowledge beyond the concept of the object, but only clarify the concept. They cannot therefore rightly be called dogmas (a word which might perhaps be translated doctrines).” (A 736/B 764) The German word translated as doctrines is Lehrsprüche. A book consisting of the clarification of concepts, according to Kant, could not rightly be said to give Lehrsprüche. Similarly, Wittgenstein’s book is no Lehrbuch – textbook, or book of doctrines. Cf. 4.112 which characterizes philosophy very much in these Kantian terms of conceptual clarification and states: Die Philosophie ist keine Lehre – philosophy is not a subject, or theory, or body of doctrine.

But, you might object, Kant is talking about analytic judgments, whereas Wittgenstein is talking about thoughts that the reader has already had. These are not the same thing. True enough, but Wittgenstein looks as if he thinks there is something parallel going on, some similarity between the analysis of concepts and the process of going through certain thoughts that one has already had. Analytic judgments do not extend our knowledge because they only bring out what was already implicit in what we knew. Similarly, perhaps, Wittgenstein aims to show us what was all along implicit in our own (or in his ideal readers’) thoughts. If we continue to follow Kant, then we will not expect this process to consist in definitions since, Kant says, “mathematics is the only science that has definitions.” (A 729/B 757) And philosophy, he has said, is not mathematics, however much Frege and Russell might have wanted to connect the two disciplines. Instead, concepts can be made explicit (see A 727/B 755 on the impossibility of defining empirical concepts) and, if a definition is to be offered, then, “the definition in all its precision and clarity ought, in philosophy, to come rather at the end than at the beginning of our enquiries.” (A 731/B 759) It would not be proper, then, for a philosophical work to proceed as if it were a mathematical work, beginning, for instance, with definitions. If the Tractatus appears to do this, then we should beware that it is going against the great Kant in doing so. This is not to say, of course, that whatever Kant says must be true. It is simply a reminder that what might seem simple or uncontroversial is not always so in philosophy.

Speaking of Kant, bear in mind that in 1944 Wittgenstein wrote an addition to a short biography of himself that John Wisdom had prepared, which read: “Wittgenstein’s chief contribution has been in the philosophy of mathematics.” This is quoted on p. 466 of Monk. At that time, the TLP was the only philosophical book he had published, so perhaps he had that in mind. (Of course, he might have been thinking of the ‘publication’ of his ideas by way of teaching, circulating notes, etc.) According to Schopenhauer’s Fourfold Root p. 160 “The whole of pure mathematics” consists of truths such as “Nothing happens without a cause” and “3 x 7 = 21.” In other words, what Kant regards as synthetic a priori truths. Schopenhauer claims that the principle of sufficient reason is this kind of truth. So if Wittgenstein was primarily concerned with the so-called synthetic a priori, then he would be concerned with the philosophy of mathematics and simultaneously be going into the heart of Kant’s and Schopenhauer’s philosophies. This would also be relevant to Russell and Frege. In this connection see also the final paragraph of the Philosophical Investigations, which begins: “An investigation is possible in connexion with mathematics which is entirely analogous to our investigation of psychology.” The nature of this category of statement is clearly very important to him, throughout his career. Maybe it is even his sole concern. Especially since he once wrote that he was trying to say the same thing over and over again in different ways. In other words, Kant is so important to philosophy, and the synthetic a priori is so important to Kant, that it is worth considering the possibility that Wittgenstein identified philosophy with a concern with synthetic a priori judgments. After all, Schopenhauer appears to have identified the synthetic a priori with the whole of pure mathematics, and Wittgenstein, who was significantly influenced by Schopenhauer, identified his own contribution to philosophy as having been chiefly in the philosophy of mathematics. But, obviously, I’m speculating somewhat idly here.

[i] For more on the relevance of Kant for Wittgenstein see P. M. S. Hacker Insight and Illusion: Themes in the Philosophy of Wittgenstein Thoemmes Press, Bristol, England, 1997, Erik Stenius Wittgenstein’s Tractatus: A Critical Exposition of its Main Lines of Thought Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, 1960, and Alfred Nordmann Wittgenstein’s Tractatus: An Introduction Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2005.

The title

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

Remarks in black are my comments. Words of Wittgenstein are in red.

The title was suggested to Wittgenstein for the English translation of his Logisch-Philosophische Abhandlung by G. E. Moore. It is a pretty literal translation of the German into Latin, meaning something like ‘Logico-Philosophical Treatise.’ It is interesting, though, that Wittgenstein considered a Latin title to be more appropriate than any English one he could think of. Perhaps he liked the fact that this title echoes Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, and perhaps he liked the idea of replacing talk of theology and politics (or theological politics) with a discussion of logic and philosophy. But we should probably not read too much into the title, since it was not his idea originally and he seems to have accepted it slightly reluctantly, in the absence of any better ideas. See Ray Monk's biography of Wittgenstein, p. 206.]


Hello and welcome.

This is an experiment more than a blog. That is, it isn't really intended to be a log of anything. Instead, my plan is to post translations of and comments on Ludwig Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. I hope these might be of interest to someone, and perhaps some of my mistakes will be pointed out to me. We shall see.