Wednesday, December 05, 2007

6.54 My propositions elucidate by whoever understands me perceiving them in the end as nonsensical, when through them – upon them – over them, he has climbed out. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed out upon it.)

He must overcome these propositions, then he sees the world rightly.

More images of inversion, like a kitten escaping from a sweater by, trying to run or climb, turning the sweater inside out. What does the enlightened reader climb out of after all? Surely the very propositions that he climbs through, on, and over. And how can Wittgenstein be so sure that he will then see the world rightly? Because, whatever else might be the case, he will no longer be in the grip of philosophical/metaphysical illusion. “Overcome” is more literal and everyday than “transcend,” and gets across the idea of struggle. It is preferred therefore by Cora Diamond. See footnote 33, p. 121 of Diarmuid Costello “’Making Sense’ of Nonsense” in Barry Stocker, ed. Post-Analytic Tractatus, Ashgate, 2004.

The ladder image occurs in Fritz Mauthner’s Beiträge zu einer Kritik der Sprache (Stuttgart: Cotta, 1901-3), vol. I, p. 2, and in Schop WWR vol. 2, p. 80.

On p. 78 Anscombe says that “Wittgenstein used to say that the Tractatus was not all wrong: it was not like a bag of junk professing to be a clock, but like a clock that did not tell you the right time.”

Friedlander (p. 13) says: “Logically speaking, the Tractatus does not exist.”

Cf. CV p. 7: "I might say: if the place I want to get to could only be reached by way of a ladder, I would give up trying to get there. For the place I really have to get to is a place I must already be at now.

"Anything that I might reach by climbing a ladder does not interest me."

Nordmann (p. 23) quotes Lichtenberg: “we always teach true philosophy with the language of the false one.” From Georg Christoph Lichtenberg Aphorisms and Letters ed. Franz Mautner and Henry Hatfield, London: Jonathan Cape, 1969, p. 53. According to Nordmann (p. 199, note 86): “TLP 6.54 (“my sentences are nonsensical”) is nonsense par excellence and therefore self-exemplifying.”

Cf. also Plato’s divided line in the Republic (Book VI, especially 511b-e). Here Plato contrasts the activity of geometers with that of philosophers, philosophers being distinguished by their going back to the beginning and not basing their reasoning on any assumptions. In philosophy, in Waterfield’s translation (p. 239), “When [reason] takes things for granted, it doesn’t treat them as starting-points, but as basic in the strict sense—as platforms and rungs, for example. These serve it until it reaches a point where nothing needs to be taken for granted, and which is the starting-point for everything. Once it has grasped this starting-point, it turns around and by a process of depending on the things which depend from the starting-point, it descends to an end-point. It makes absolutely no use of anything perceptible by the senses: it aims for types by means of types alone, in and of themselves, and it ends its journey with types.” It is worth noting that Russell’s The Problems of Philosophy, which was published in 1912, specially recommends Plato’s Republic for the “student who wishes to acquire an elementary knowledge of philosophy” (along with six classics of early modern philosophy) and especially picks out Books VI and VII from the Republic. It seems likely, then, that Wittgenstein, who was first formally taught philosophy by Russell in late 1911, would have read this part of the Republic.

Also possibly relevant, from Book VII of the Republic 533c: “For if your starting-point is unknown, and your end-point and intermediate stages are woven together out of unknown material, there may be coherence, but knowledge is completely out of the question.”

And compare Schopenhauer Fourfold Root p. 120: “But it would be downright chicanery and nothing else, if the attempt were made to compare or even identify the honest and thorough analysis here given of empirical intuitive perception into its elements, such elements proving to be subjective, with Fichte’s algebraical equations between the ego and non-ego; with that sophist’s pseudo-demonstrations, requiring the cloak of incomprehensibility and even nonsense to deceive the reader; with explanations such as the ego spinning the non-ego out of itself; in short, with all the tomfoolery of scientific emptiness.” Is the TLP comparable to Fichte’s work in some such way?

White (pp. 115-117) sets out various ways in which Wittgenstein has ‘said’ things that, he says, cannot be said, e.g. in his remarks on formal concepts and the logical form of propositions that is shared with reality.

Schopenhauer WWR Vol. II, p. 80: “However, for the man who studies to gain insight, books and studies are merely rungs of the ladder on which he climbs to the summit of knowledge. As soon as a rung has raised him one step, he leaves it behind. On the other hand, the many who study in order to fill their memory do not use the rungs of the ladder for climbing, but take them off and load themselves with them to take away, rejoicing at the increasing weight of the burden. They remain below forever, because they bear what should have borne them.” See David Avraham Weiner Genius and Talent: Schopenhauer’s Influence on Wittgenstein’s Early Philosophy (Associated University Presses, London, 1992), pp. 42-43 for more on this.

Black (p. 377) also quotes Sextus Empiricus comparing a skeptic who proves the non-existence of proof to a man who kicks over a ladder after he has used it to climb to a high place.

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