• Sam26
    I'm glad I made a copy of the thread I wrote from the other forum. I'm not sure if there is enough interest to post some of that here. Maybe I could post it for people to read and comment on. What do you people think?
  • Pierre-Normand
    Welcome back!

    I remember that there was a very good thread on the older forum about Wittgenstein's Tractatus. Was that your thread? In any case, if you can repost the original post, and the date, it ought to be possible to find the old thread on the Wayback Machine.
  • Posty McPostface
    Please do a thread on the Tractatus while referring to the answers already provided in the old thread. That would be heavenly.
  • TimeLine
    I'm glad I made a copy of the thread I wrote from the other forum. I'm not sure if there is enough interest to post some of that here. Maybe I could post it for people to read and comment on. What do you people think?Sam26

    Yeah I actually remember that, and it got somewhat controversial because of a poster who appeared to be taking your ideas. X-) But aside from that, it was actually a great post.
  • jamalrob
    Welcome Sam, good to see you here. Go for it. :)
  • Banno
  • Sam26
    The following posts were originally done in Philosophy Forums starting in June of 2010, they continued until 2016. I'm going to post almost all of those posts in here for those of you who have an interest. I don't pretend to be an expert on Wittgenstein, I'm just a novice.

    Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (1889-1951)

    Post #1

    I am going to use K. T. Fann's book, Wittgenstein's Conception of Philosophy as a guide for much of my summary of the Tractatus, because I think it is one of the best summaries written on Wittgenstein's early and late philosophy. If you want to study Wittgenstein I would suggest getting Fann's book. You can get it on Alibris (used) for just a few dollars.

    It is important to understand the background to Wittgenstein's works in order to better understand his thinking. I am not going to be able to give those of you who are interested a complete background of what was going on in philosophy at the time, vis-a-vis Bertrand Russell, A. N. Whitehead, and Gottlob Frege. I will only give you bits and pieces, and hopefully this will inspire you to do your own thinking, and come to your own conclusions about the nature of Wittgenstein's work; and not only the nature of his work, but to come to understand how his thinking should influence the way we think about language, and in particular - propositions.

    As much as I enjoy Wittgenstein's philosophy, and thinking about what he said concerning the nature of a proposition, it is important to understand that no philosopher no matter how brilliant - is without flaws. Hence, we have to be careful about getting tunnel vision, and we have to be careful about being to dogmatic about a certain philosopher, philosophy, or theory. That said, we can learn much about some of the problems of philosophy by spending some time trying to understand Wittgenstein's methods, and how these methods apply to philosophical thinking concerning the proposition. After all, propositions to philosophers, are like the hammer, saw, and nails to a carpenter.

    I have come to the conclusion after reading several biographies and studying Wittgenstein on my own, that in the 20th century Wittgenstein is to philosophy, what Einstein is to physics; and just as a physicist would not neglect Einstein's theories, I think philosophers should also not neglect the study of Wittgenstein's methods. His writings are some of the most original in all of philosophy, and the power of his intellect is demonstrated not only in his philosophy, but in other areas of his life.

    Wittgenstein was born in Vienna, and he was the youngest of eight children. He came from a very cultured and rich industrialist family. In fact Johannes Brahms would come to the Wittgenstein home and play his music. Ludwig was educated at home until the age of 14, when his parents decided to send the young Wittgenstein to Linz to prepare him in mathematics and the physical sciences. It seems that the young Wittgenstein wanted to study with the physicist Boltzmann, however Boltzmann died in 1906. After being educated in Linz for three years, he then went to Berlin to study mechanical engineering at the Technische Hochscule at Charlottenburg. After two years in Berlin, he went to England where he became a research student of engineering at the University of Manchester. During this time he engaged in aeronautical research, and went from experimenting with kites, to the construction of a jet reaction propeller for aircraft. The design of the propeller was a mathematical endeavor, which eventually led the young Wittgenstein into pure mathematics, and then, to the foundation of mathematics. Apparently his interest in the foundation of mathematics led him to Russell and Whitehead's work, called the Principles of Mathematics. The Principles of Mathematics greatly affected the young Wittgenstein, and this interest led him to the works of Frege who was the founder of modern mathematical logic; so it was through Russell, Whitehead, and Frege's works that Wittgenstein entered into the study of philosophy.

    According to G. H. Von Wright, Wittgenstein read Schopenhauer's Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, and this brought him face-to-face with Schopenhauer's idealism. Later Wittgenstein apparently abandoned his Schopenharuerian idealistic views in favor of Frege's conceptual realism; and it seems that after a talk with Frege, Wittgenstein decided to go to Cambridge and study philosophy with Russell (G. H. Von Wright, A Biographical Sketch, p. 6).
  • Sam26
    Wittgenstein: The Tractatus

    Post #2

    I will begin these posts by discussing the Tractatus before I move on to a brief outline of the Philosophical Investigations. The Tractatus is one of the most difficult works of philosophy, and it is because of this many of the interpretations of the Tractatus have been deficient. Even Russell and Frege misinterpreted the Tractatus according to Wittgenstein. I am sure that my feeble attempt at interpreting Wittgenstein will also fall far short. Nevertheless, I shall have a go at it.

    In the preface to the Tractatus Wittgenstein tells us what the aim of the Tractatus is:

    "The book deals with the problems of philosophy, and shows, I believe, that the reason why these problems are posed is that the logic of our language is misunderstood. The whole sense of the book might be summed up in the following words: what can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence.

    "Thus the aim of the book is to draw a limit to thought, or rather--not to thought, but to the expression of thoughts: for in order to be able to draw a limit to thought, we should have to find both sides of the limit thinkable (i.e. we should have to be able to think what cannot be thought).

    "It will therefore only be in language that the limit can be drawn, and what lies on the other side of the limit will simply be nonsense (Tractatus, p. 3)."

    Even in the Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein is still thinking in terms of the logic of language; however, his method is different. The Tractatus is an a priori investigation of language, and the Philosophical Investigations is more of an a posteriori or pragmatic approach to language. My personal belief is that both works have something important to say. The a priori approach in the Tractatus is due to Wittgenstein's belief that the structure of language is revealed by logic (P.I. para. 107).

    Wittgenstein also believed that the function of language is essentially to describe the world. Therefore, we can see that the three main issues of the Tractatus are logic, language, and the world. And this is clearly pointed out in Wittgenstein's picture theory of language, which is directly related to his theory of truth-functions. "These two theories are designed to answer the questions: 'What is the function of language?' and 'What is the structure of language?' Since language is conceived as 'the totality of propositions' (T. 4.001), the two questions are transformed into the following: 'How are propositions related to the world?' and 'How are propositions related to one another?' This is why Wittgenstein wrote in his Notebook, 'My whole task consists in explaining the nature of the proposition' (Nb p. 39). Wittgenstein assumes that if we can use language to talk about the world, there must be some propositions directly connected with the world, so that their truth or falsity are not determined by other propositions, but by the world: these he called 'elementary propositions' (K. T. Fann, p. 8)."
  • Sam26
    Thanks for the comments. I hope all of you are doing well. I'm currently living in Florida enjoying the warm weather. As some of you know I'm retired, so in my spare time I study Wittgenstein. Although, I've slowed down a bit in the past couple of years.

    No matter how many times I edit these posts, I always find more mistakes.

  • Sam26
    Wittgenstein: The Tractatus

    Post #3

    Elementary propositions are constituents of complex or ordinary propositions. That is to say, ordinary propositions can be analyzed into more basic kinds of propositions, which can be further analyzed into the most fundamental parts, until no further analysis is possible. Once we reach the point where no further analysis is possible, then we have what Wittgenstein called the elementary proposition. The elementary proposition puts us into direct contact with the world. Elementary propositions are logical pictures of atomic facts. Atomic facts are the smallest constituent parts of more complex facts. As a result of this analysis, we are now in direct contact with the world, because the smallest analyzable proposition, the elementary proposition, puts us in contact with the smallest analyzable fact - the atomic fact (facts exist in the world).

    An elementary proposition is the simplest kind of proposition, and it is made up of names (T. 4.22). What is a name? "A name cannot be dissected any further by means of a definition: it is a primitive sign (T. 3.26)." Names refer to objects in the world, and objects are simple (T. 3.203, 2.02). While it is true that elementary propositions are the simplest kind of proposition, they can be analyzed or broken into smaller parts; however, these parts are no longer called propositions, they are called names. Hence, a complete analysis of a proposition is the following:

    Complex propositions ------- elementary propositions ------- and finally, names.

    Nowhere does Wittgenstein come up with an example of an elementary proposition or name. According to Norman Malcolm, when he asked Wittgenstein about why there were no examples of elementary propositions or names, Wittgenstein said that it was not his job as a logician to decide whether this thing or that was a simple or complex thing. Wittgenstein believed this was an empirical matter, and apparently outside the scope of his work. However, to be fair, Wittgenstein understood the problem and makes reference to it in the Notebooks on page 68 (Fann, p. 12).

    So what we have then is the following: Complex propositions can be analyzed into the most basic kind of propositions - called elementary propositions. Elementary propositions are made up of simple terms called names. He concludes that names must refer to objects in the world, that is, the object is its referent. If the referent does not exist, then the proposition is senseless. However, because a proposition is senseless, this does not mean that it cannot be understood. If I say "I saw a unicorn yesterday," you can understand the proposition, but the term unicorn has no referent in the world, thus it is senseless (as I understand it). Wittgenstein's use of senseless and nonsense are important to understand. More on this later.

    The idea that names must refer to objects is a view that goes all the way back to Augustine, but keep in mind that the naming of objects as defined in the Tractatus is similar to the Augustinian model in that something in the proposition is pointing to something in the world, but it is different in an important respect. For example, objects in the Tractatus are what make up the substance of the world (T. 2.021), but what is meant by object is not what you might think ( it is not tables, chairs, trees, etc.) i.e., it is the smallest constituent part of reality. Names and objects in the Wittgensteinian sense, are what must exist if his logical analysis is to be correct. So there is a one-to-one correspondence between the smallest analyzable part of an elementary proposition (names), and the smallest analyzable part of atomic facts (objects).
  • Pierre-Normand
    I am going to use K. T. Fann's book Wittgenstein's Conception of Philosophy as a guide for much of my summary of the Tractatus, because I think it is one of the best summaries written on Wittgenstein's early and late philosophy. If you want to study Wittgenstein I would suggest getting Fann's book. You can get it on Alibris (used) for just a few dollars.Sam26

    Thanks for the recommendation. I noticed that Google Books makes the whole book available for online reading. (I grabbed it and OCRed it so that I could annotate it). This is strange since Google *also* makes available a free sample, and sell the whole book in the Books section of the Google Play Store.
  • Janus
    OCRed it so that I could annotate it)Pierre-Normand

    I'm interested to know what OCRing is...
  • Pierre-Normand
    I'm interested to know what OCRing is...John

    Optical Character Recognition... to convert the raw images in the pdf files that I had generated into searchable text (that can also be underlined, highlighted, copied, etc.) I couldn't find a good freeware to do that, so I downloaded a 7-day trial version of Adobe Acrobat DC. Thus converted, the pdf book looks just the same but it now has a hidden text layer added to it.
  • Janus

    OK thanks. Is it easy to convert the online book to PDF?
  • Pierre-Normand
    OK thanks. Is it easy to convert the online book to PDF?John

    I found an online tool for that. Just PM me.
  • ernestm
    I am so glad to find an expert on this.

    Please could you update me, what is the current thinking on Austin's idea of performative utterances, and Ryle's idea of categorical mistakes?
  • Sam26
    Wittgenstein: The Tractatus Post #4

    So what we have then is the following: Complex propositions can be analyzed into the most basic kind of propositions - called elementary propositions. Elementary propositions are made up of simple terms called names. He concludes that names must refer to objects in the world, i.e., the object is its referent. If the referent does not exist, then the proposition is senseless. But how can this be, since we often make reference to things that do not exist, and yet we understand the sense of the proposition. We refer to hobbits, witches, little green monsters, and yet they do not exist. We understand, because we understand the concepts - not because they point to some object; and we understand because propositions present a picture, and these pictures either mirror reality or they do not.

    These objects, which are the simplest elements in reality, that is, they are what reality is composed of; and they are what the names in elementary propositions refer too. Objects are indestructible, they are the constituent parts that remain the same over time. We use them to construct a picture of reality (PI, para. 59). Furthermore, objects make up atomic facts, which are then used to construct any fact or state of affairs portrayed in complex propositions.

    Again, we have the world (T. 1), and the world is composed of objects, atomic facts, and finally the facts themselves, or states of affairs (T. 2, 2.01). Each of these (object, atomic fact, and fact) has its corresponding component in language (name, elementary proposition, and complex proposition). Wittgenstein is constructing an ontology in the Tractatus: "Objects make up the substance of the world (T. 2.021)." "Empirical reality is limited by the totality of objects. The limit also makes itself manifest in the totality of elementary propositions (T. 5.5561)."

    How do the names in elementary propositions say anything? And if they are pictures of atomic facts - what does that mean? It apparently means that they reflect or mirror reality, but this seems to beg-the-question. In the Notebooks Wittgenstein says the following: "In the proposition a world is as it were put together experimentally (Nb, p. 7)." This idea apparently occurred to Wittgenstein when he observed or read about a model of a car accident that was used in a Paris court of law, that is, they used dolls and other objects to represent the facts of the case. The model was a picture of reality; and so it is with the proposition, it is a model of reality as we imagine or picture it (T. 4.01).

    Before I end this post, I just want to say that I believe that many of our propositions are pictures of reality, but again this is not the only way propositions state the facts. Many people think Wittgenstein repudiated this idea, but I think he merely was saying that language does more than this. Just as language does more than use the ostensive definition model.
  • Sam26
    Wittgenstein: The Tractatus Post #5

    Above I talked about names being the simplest component of elementary propositions, and that names referred to objects, and objects make up atomic facts. The question came up about how we could make sense of a proposition if there were no corresponding objects, and thus, no corresponding facts. According to the Tractatus a proposition pictures reality, so if we are to understand a proposition that refers to unicorns, it is because the proposition displays a picture, and that picture either matches up with reality or it does not. If it correctly mirrors reality, then it is true, if it does not mirror reality, then it is false. So to understand the sense of the proposition is a matter of picturing the proposition, and this occurs quite apart from there being a corresponding fact in reality.

    A picture or proposition presents a fact from a position outside of it, or separate from the fact it is displaying. Just as a picture of the White House presents the White House from a position outside it, or quite separate from reality or the state-of-affairs. Any picture either accurately or inaccurately presents a certain state of affairs (T. 2.1). Propositions then are pictures according to the Tractatus. For example, consider any painting that displays a picture, the picture may or may not actually match up with a corresponding state of affairs, and yet whether it does has no bearing on whether we understand the picture.

    "The fact that the elements of a picture are related to one another in a determinate way represents that things are related to one another in the same way. Let us call this connexion of its elements the structure of the picture, and let us call the possibility of this structure the pictorial form of the picture (T. 2.15)."

    The pictorial form is the form a picture shares with a fact. Remember that the form of the picture has to do with the arrangement of the elements in the picture. "What a picture must have in common with reality, in order to be able to depict it--correctly or incorrectly--in the way it does, is its pictorial form. A picture can depict any reality whose form it has. A spacial picture can depict anything spacial, a coloured one anything coloured, etc. A picture cannot, however, depict its pictorial form: it displays it (T. 2.17 - 2.172)."

    There is a shared logic between the picture and the fact (T. 2.18).

    How does a proposition correspond with reality? "Pictorial form is the possibility that things are related to one another in the same way as the elements of the picture.

    "That is how a picture is attached to reality; it reaches right out to it.

    "It is laid against reality like a measure (T. 2.151-2.1512)."

    Each person, truck, bridge, house in the picture represents those things in the world.

    So how do we tell if a proposition is true or false? We must compare it with reality (T. 2.223).

    The sense of a picture is the arrangement of the things in the picture, which supposedly correspond to the arrangement of things in the world (T. 2.221).

    The way one verifies the correctness of a proposition is by inspecting the proposition to see if it indeed reflects reality (T. 2.223).

    According to Wittgenstein a thought is a logical picture (Wittgenstein does not believe that we can think illogically), it uses the form of logic to represent a fact (T. 3 and 3.03).

    "In a proposition a thought finds an expression that can be perceived by the senses (T. 3.1)."

    So the logical picture is made by logical units, such as, visual marks or auditory marks.

    Therefore, a proposition says that 'a' is in a certain relation to 'b', i.e., 'aRb'. For instance, Sam is standing next to Jane.
  • Sam26
    Wittgenstein: The Tractatus Post #6

    So how are we able to understand a new proposition? We understand it because it presents a picture of reality. We understand a proposition like "I saw ten dogs flying over my house today," because it gives us a picture, and that picture either matches reality, or it does not match reality. This is how we can understand propositions that are false (T. 4.024), because even false propositions present a picture.

    A picture shows its sense, i.e., it shows how things stand if it is true. The fact that propositions show a particular sense is something that I believe continued into the Philosophical Investigations.

    Another central idea presented in the Tractatus is the truth-function theory. This theory goes hand-in-hand with the picture theory. "A proposition is a truth-function of elementary propositions (T. 5)." Therefore, if you are given all elementary propositions, then you can construct every possible proposition, which fixes their limits (T. 4.51). My understanding is that this sets the limit of language, or sets a limit to what can be said.

    A full appreciation of this thesis requires an understanding of truth-functional logic. It suffices for our purpose to point out merely that a compound proposition, compounded of the propositions P1, P2,....,Pn, is a truth-functional compound of P1, P2,..., Pn if and only if its truth or falsity is uniquely determined by the truth or falsity (the truth-values) of P1,..., Pn. In other words, the truth-value of a compound proposition is completely determined by the truth-values of its components--once the truth-values of is components are given, the truth-value of the compound proposition can be calculated. Wittgenstein claims that all propositions are related to elementary propositions truth-functionally (K.T. Fann, p. 17).

    Therefore, what follows is this: "If all true elementary propositions are given, the result is a complete description of the world. The world is completely described by giving all elementary propositions, and adding which of them are true and which false (T. 4.26)."
  • Sam26
    Wittgenstein: The Tractatus Post #7

    We know that Wittgenstein thought that all propositions were truth-functions of elementary propositions. Therefore, if a proposition X is analyzed into elementary propositions p and q, and they are connected by the truth-functional connective and, then the truth-value of X is determined by p and q. Remember your truth-tables?






    Hence, if X is true, both p and q have to be true. If not, then it is false. X is dependent upon the truth-values of p and q, i.e., its component parts. Thus, X is a genuine proposition. Wittgenstein demonstrated that there is a mechanical method of determining whether a proposition has sense (T. 4.31).

    According to Wittgenstein there are two extreme cases amongst the possible groups of truth-conditions. In one of these cases, the proposition is true for all truth-possibilities of elementary propositions; and thus, we say that the truth-conditions are tautological. In the second case the proposition is false for all truth-possibilities, which then yields a contradiction (T. 4.46).

    "Propositions show what they say: tautologies and contradictions show that they say nothing.

    "A tautology has no truth-conditions, since it is unconditionally true: and a contradiction is true on no condition.

    "Tautologies and contradictions lack sense." (Like a point from which two arrows go out in opposite directions to one another.)

    "(For example, I know nothing about weather when I know that it is either raining or not raining.) (T. 4.461)."

    "Tautologies and contradictions are not, however, non-sensical. They are part of the symbolism, much as '0' is part of the symbolism of arithmetic (T. 4.4611)."

    Wittgenstein goes on to say that tautologies and contradictions are not pictures of reality, since they do not represent possible situations or states of affairs. Tautologies show all possible situations or states of affairs; and contradictions show us no possible situations or states of affairs (T. 4.462). These are not propositions in the strict sense, but are degenerate propositions; and any proposition that is not subject to truth-value analysis is considered non-sense, or a pseudo-proposition.

    "Summarily then, language consists of propositions. All propositions can be analyzed into elementary propositions and are truth-functions of elementary propositions. The elementary propositions are immediate combinations of names, which directly refer to objects; and elementary propositions are logical pictures of atomic facts, which are immediate combinations of objects. Atomic facts combine to form facts of whatever complexity which constitute the world. Thus language is truth-functionally structured and its essential function is to describe the world. Here we have the limit of language and what amounts to the same, the limit of the world (K. T. Fann, p. 21)."

    Maybe some of you can see why the Logical Positivists latched onto Wittgenstein's theory and tried to make it support their own view of reality.
  • Sam26
    Wittgenstein: The Tractatus

    Post #8

    Language for Wittgenstein is descriptive, which means that when we say something we are describing something. However, what about the propositions of logic, mathematics, ethics, and metaphysics? Wittgenstein also deals with these propositions in the Tractatus, and concludes that they are senseless or nonsense. They are attempts to transcend the limits of language and the limits of the world. Wittgenstein believed that some propositions are attempts to say what cannot be said, but they are nevertheless important - this is what the Logical Positivists failed to understand. "There are indeed, things that cannot be put into words. However, they make themselves manifest in a variety of our actions. They are what is mystical (T. 6.522)." This idea of the mystical is a thread that continues throughout Wittgenstein's writings, i.e., from his early philosophy to his late philosophy; and I believe it is important to understanding the direction of his mind. As I already pointed out, Wittgenstein's early philosophy demonstrates that the propositions of philosophy are attempts to transcend the limits of language, and thus, the limits of the world. Hence, Wittgenstein is mapping out the limits of what can be said, not only in the Tractatus, but in his later writings. His later method is different, but the goal in many respects remains the same.

    Although he abandons his a priori method in the Philosophical Investigations, he does not abandon the idea that there is a logic behind the use of propositions. However the logic used in his later philosophy is not as confining or restrictive. He expands the idea of the logic of language, and thereby expands his ideas of propositions and language as a whole - he looks at how we use propositions in the context of life, which is much more practical and social.

    My own view, for instance, is that Wittgenstein is incorrect about the proposition of ethics. I believe that the propositions of ethics do not transcend the world, i.e., in the sense that they are attempts to say what cannot be said. I also believe that there are moral facts, and that they are objective facts that all of us are able to comprehend. They are not senseless in the Wittgensteinian sense.

    As I write this keep in mind that my main task is to explain what Wittgenstein is saying, not to critique his methodology. Even if you think that Wittgenstein was incorrect on this or that point, he still has something important to tell us.

    Propositions according to Wittgenstein can either make sense, be senseless, or be nonsense. That is to say, what can be said, falls into one of these three categories - if our propositions are to have a sense, then they fall within the limits of language; if we attempt to say something about the limit of language, then the propositions are senseless; and if we attempt to say what is on the other side of the limit, then our propositions are nonsense.

    According to Fann, "The failure to understand Wittgenstein's distinctions results in misinterpreting the Tractatus as an anti-metaphysical treatise. That the earlier commentators and readers of the Tractatus did not appreciate Wittgenstein's important distinction between 'senseless' (sinnlos) and 'nonsensical' (unsinnig) is evident from the first English edition of the book in which 'unsinnig' (nonsensical) is often translated as 'senseless'--the same translation given to 'sinnlos' (K.T. Fann, p. 25).
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