• Art48
    466
    I’ve begun to read Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and am having a problem with some opening statements.

    W: “1.1 The world is the totality of facts, not of things.”

    Q: What is meant by “facts”? Isn’t a fact something which is true? And isn’t truth a property of propositions? So, the world consists of all true propositions? If so, then “world” doesn’t refer to the physical universe but to the collection of true propositions about the physical universe.

    W: “2.01 An atomic fact is a combination of objects (entities, things).”

    Q: Hm. “Objects” and “things” suggest material objects in the physical universe. But a material object cannot literally be a part of a proposition and therefore cannot be part of a fact. A proposition can refer to objects. My dog has fleas. But the physical object, the dog, is not literally part of the proposition. Propositions only contains thoughts, not physical objects.

    W: “2.001 It is essential to a thing that it can be a constituent part of an atomic fact.”

    Q: Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say “2.001 It is essential to a thing that [the idea of the thing but not the thing itself] can be a constituent part of an atomic fact”? If facts are propositions, and propositions can only contain thoughts, then the amended statement is more accurate.

    But if Wittgenstein meant 2.001 as written, then I’m confused. When Wittgenstein uses the word “world” does he mean 1) only facts about the world, or 2) a mixture of facts about the world and things, states of affairs, in the world?

    Wikipedia has the following:

    Main theses
    There are seven main propositions in the text. These are:
    1. The world is everything that is the case.
    2. What is the case (a fact) is the existence of states of affairs.
    3. A logical picture of facts is a thought.
    4. A thought is a proposition with a sense.
    5. A proposition is a truth-function of elementary propositions. (An elementary proposition is a truth-function of itself.)


    There seems to be an equivocation on the word “fact.” Does “fact” refer to the state of affairs that my dog has fleas? (i.e., the physical object, dog, has living upon it other physical objects, fleas.) Or does “fact” refer to the true proposition, the true sentence, which states that my dog has fleas?

    3. A logical picture of facts is a thought” seems to imply that facts and thoughts differ, that a thought is mental and a fact is a state of affairs (i.e., the physical object, dog, has living upon it other physical objects, fleas.) But this would imply “The world is the totality of things, of states of affairs, not facts” which contradicts 1.1.
  • bongo fury
    1.6k
    There seems to be an equivocation on the word “fact.”Art48

    In everyday usage, sure. But W seems clear enough here that he means "combinations of things". As opposed to individual things, and as opposed to any sentences or pictures describing or depicting them. Truth-makers not truth-bearers.

    which contradicts 1.1.Art48

    Only if you can't resist applying "fact" either to truth-bearers or to individual things. But no contradiction so far in the text.

    Cool thread :clap:
  • Banno
    23.6k
    I can tell you how I understand the text, others will differ. It is a complex piece, so it is best to have a secondary source handy to explain the overall picture, and to expect disagreement. Also, keep reading, since the explanations often follow in the detail. I sometimes think of the book as being written in reverse polish notation, avoiding parentheses but necessitating that the reader keep track of the scope of each operand. So one does not see what Witti is doing with a remark until one reads the remarks that follow it. The result is an argument that is understood only after reading the whole.

    I can tell you how I understand the text, others will differ. It is a complex piece, so it is best to have a secondary source handy to explain the overall picture, and to expect disagreement. Also, keep reading, since the explanations often follow in the detail. I sometimes think of the book as being written in reverse polish notation, avoiding parentheses but necessitating that the reader keep track of the scope of each operand. So one does not see what Witti is doing with a remark until one reads the remarks that follow it. The result is an argument that is understood only after reading the whole.

    The spark notes are more use than Wikipedia: https://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/tractatus/summary/

    The world does not consist of individuals such as that tree, you, and the number 19 bus. It consists of facts about those individuals: the tree is three metres tall, you posted a thread, and the bus is late.

    In the logic developed by Frege, individuals are usually represented by lower-case letters starting with a so: a,b,c...; and predicates by lower case letters starting at f; so f(...), g(...)... So that the fact "a is f" is written f(a). Wittgenstein is setting up "world" to mean the set of such facts. (This is somewhat at odds with how 'world' is used in more recent logics, but the field developed quite a bit since then).

    This becomes clearer when he starts to talk about "logical space". Logical space is like all the well-formed formulae; the world is what the true well-formed formulae set out; that is, the facts.

    So the bus might not have been late, the tree might have been 4m instead of 3m; these possibilities exist in logical space. The world consists of the possibilities that are true. These, we call facts.

    "Object" includes but is not limited to material objects, nor phenomenal observations. It's never explicitly defined, because in a sense what they are is ineffable. I take this to be one of the issues with the Tractatus, not resolved until the discussion of "simples" in the Investigations - where what counts as an object depends on what one is doing.

    And so that's the next point; keep in mind that a large part of the Tractatus was significantly revises in Witti's later writing, so he may well have agreed with the criticisms you are levelling at the text. He wrote the Investigations to be read alongside the Tractatus.
  • Banno
    23.6k
    Does “fact” refer to the state of affairs that my dog has fleas? (i.e., the physical object, dog, has living upon it other physical objects, fleas.) Or does “fact” refer to the true proposition, the true sentence, which states that my dog has fleas?Art48

    "My dog has fleas" is a sentence, and not a fact.

    That my dog has fleas is a fact.

    That the sentence "my dog has fleas" is true is also a fact.

    Now interestingly, "my dog has fleas" and "the sentence 'my dog had fleas' is true" will both be true under exactly the same circumstances: if my dog has fleas.

    This is the T sentence:
    "My dog has fleas" is true only if my dog has fleas.
    So "My dog has fleas" and "the sentence 'my dog had fleas' is true" represent the very same fact.

    Does “fact” refer to the state of affairs that my dog has fleas? Yes.

    Does “fact” refer to the true proposition, the true sentence, which states that my dog has fleas? Yes.
  • bongo fury
    1.6k
    Does “fact” refer to the true proposition, the true sentence, which states that my dog has fleas? Yes.Banno

    In a lot of usage, sure.

    But W seems clear enough here, in the text in question, that he would say no, he means "combinations of things". Their manners of combination, if you like. The ways they are, and inter-relate.

    As opposed to individual things, such as flea-ridden dogs, and true sentences. And as opposed to any sentences or pictures truly describing or depicting the things, which are of course themselves individual things. Such as, "my dog has fleas" (a sentence thing happening to describe a flea-ridden dog thing) or " 'my dog has fleas' is true" (a sentence thing happening to describe a true sentence thing). These are all things, not facts, according to the text in question.

    If not these, then what? What are facts in the Tractatus? Well, specifically: they are what people tend to mean by "truth-maker" when they oppose that term to "truth-bearer". They tend to think there must be an abstract thing corresponding to the whole true sentence (truth-bearer) just as there is (typically) an individual thing named by a noun in the sentence. It's my impression, anyway, that this is what those people tend to mean, and that they follow Russell and early W in conceiving of an abstract counterpart to the whole truth-bearer. Not just a dog that has fleas, but an abstract referent of "that the dog has fleas". Not just a thing, but a fact.

    Of course, plenty of philosophers of language, later W included, would rather do without the abstract counterpart. But the text in question is clearly doing with.
  • Agent Smith
    9.5k
    W: “1.1 The world is the totality of facts, not of things.”Art48

    I'll take a shot at this: Reality (the world), what is it? Facts, the totality of facts. It feels important to distinguish facts from knowledge - we, knowledge-hungry beings, are dispensable to the extent that reality doesn't need us (nay to idealism) but...facts seem soooo lonely; they, in a certain sense, need us just as a man needs a woman and vice versa, notwithstanding homosexuality and bachelors/spinsters.
  • RussellA
    1.6k
    “facts”Art48

    Following Wittgenstein's line of thinking, if "my dog has fleas" obtains in the world, then my dog has fleas is a fact.

    Even if "my dog has fleas" doesn't obtain in the world, it is still a possibility, and therefore exists in a logical space.

    As the world consists of logical possibilities, and as the world is a totality of facts, does this mean that even though "my dog has fleas" doesn't obtain in the world, because it is a possibility, it is still a fact ?

    As he wrote in 3. "A logical picture of facts is a thought", this allows us to think of facts that may or may not obtain in the world, such as unicorns and their habitats.

    On the other hand, Wittgenstein's move from objects in traditional philosophy to facts, where it is not the object that is important but the relationship it is in, does raise other problems.
  • Mikie
    6.4k


    I have to say that I was never much impressed with the Tractatus. The very first proposition, that the “world is everything that is the case” is fine, but immediately starts going into “facts.”

    Facts are interpretations based on human perceptions and perspectives and, more importantly, are a product of a certain mode of experience— one where we’re looking at the world in an entirely different way than we are in our average state of habit. Who gives a damn about “facts” when you’re late for work or in love?

    So much time spent on “facts.” Just more of the analytic tradition which wants to ultimately reduce everything to logic and mathematics (it’s the influence of science). Not relevant, and not even that interesting. Useful in developing computers, I suppose.
  • Fooloso4
    5.7k
    @Art48

    In the Tractatus Wittgenstein attempts to construct the world beginning with what is simple or elemental. Corresponding to simple objects are simple names. Wittgenstein never identifies any simple object or name, but assumes they must exist as constitutive elements of the world.

    Logic underlies the compounding of simple objects and names. It is this logical structure that makes possible saying anything about the world. Propositions are true if what they say is what is the case. That the word is a totality of facts not things means that it is not the simple objects or things that make up the world but rather their combinations. The most rudimentary combinations are "atomic facts". Atomic facts combine to form complexes.

    He uses the term "world" to mean the totality of these complexes. He also talks about "my world", the world as it is for me. But the "I" is not part of the world in the same way as the eye sees but is not what is seen.
  • Harry Hindu
    4.9k
    But a material object cannot literally be a part of a proposition and therefore cannot be part of a fact.Art48
    Depends on what you mean by "proposition". Propositions can be ink marks on a piece of paper, or vibrating air molecules when speaking.

    In everyday usage, sure.bongo fury
    I don't get this distinction between everyday, ordinary usage and some other usage. Usage depends on context. Why should we consider a philosophical context any different than any other context? The idea of ordinary usage takes into account these various contexts. What is ordinary about the usage is that it is ordinary to use the terms that way in those contexts. Any unordinary usage would be a misuse of terms in that context. When we agree on new uses for a term we are essentially creating a new context with which we use the term.
  • bongo fury
    1.6k
    So that the fact "a is f" is written f(a).Banno

    Perhaps you mean,

    So that the fact that a is f is written "f(a)".Banno



    , if "my dog has fleas" obtains in the world, then my dog has fleas is a fact.RussellA

    Perhaps you mean,

    , if it happens in the world that my dog has fleas, then "my dog has fleas" is a fact.RussellA

    (in the sense of true sentence).

    Or perhaps you mean,

    , if "my dog has fleas" is a true sentence, then it happens in the world that my dog has fleas.RussellA

    I don't claim you won't find plenty of similar mishandling of quotation marks in my posts. But the topic here is whether we need to care.
  • schopenhauer1
    10.3k
    Useful in developing computers, I suppose.Xtrix

    If you only knew how much this sentence characterizes the state of modern humanity.
  • bongo fury
    1.6k
    When we agree on new uses for a term we are essentially creating a new context with which we use the term.Harry Hindu

    Sure. Cherry-picking cases of past usage that help to sell our new theory.

    Weren't Newton & co. rather cheekily re-purposing psychological words like force ("courage, fortitude"), inertia ("unskillfulness, ignorance"), moment ("importance")?bongo fury
  • Sam26
    2.6k
    Q: What is meant by “facts”? Isn’t a fact something which is true? And isn’t truth a property of propositions? So, the world consists of all true propositions? If so, then “world” doesn’t refer to the physical universe but to the collection of true propositions about the physical universe.Art48

    So, a proposition is broken down into elementary propositions and names. Facts are broken down into atomic facts and objects. Think of elementary propositions as pictures of reality, if they are true (this is Wittgenstein's picture theory of meaning), or if the elementary proposition is false, then the picture doesn't represent anything in reality. In other words, a false proposition is a picture with a form, but the form has no instance in reality. Think of a painting, a painting has a form, whether it matches something in reality or not. The form of the picture, is the arrangement of things (houses, trees, valleys, etc.) in the picture. If the arrangement of things in the picture correctly picture reality, then it is a true picture of reality.

    Only true propositions connect via names to objects. However, don't think of names and objects in the ordinary sense. Names and objects as used in the Tractatus are simples. They are the smallest component parts of propositions and facts, respectively (Wittgenstein never gives e.g.'s of either of these, but he believes that logic dictates their existence). The elementary proposition, which is composed of names, asserts the existence of some state-of-affairs, or some fact. Only propositions can be true or false, depending on whether they reflect facts or don't reflect facts. There is no such thing as a true or false fact, only true or false propositions. So, again, whether a proposition is true or false depends on whether it correctly pictures a fact. "A proposition is a picture of reality. A proposition is a model of reality as we imagine it (T. 4.01."

    When thinking of a fact, an analogy might help. For example, think of a chess board and the pieces as the world, then think of the arrangement of the pieces (facts in logical space) on the board, as the facts in the world (the facts of the game). If you correctly describe the game, then you are describing some arrangement of the pieces on the board. I.e., the language you use correctly (if true) or incorrectly (if false) is supposed to picture the facts (arrangement of pieces) of the game.

    The world consists of facts (T. 1.13, 2.04). However, the totality of true propositions describes the world, i.e., describes the facts of the world.

    Hopefully this partly answers some of your questions.

    Good Luck,
    Sam
  • schopenhauer1
    10.3k

    It seems like his "theory" (as described here) is a kind of truism rather than a truth. It makes sense that propositions can be true or false based on whether it is describing "facts of the world". The problem to me is that he never really provides how to find "facts of the world" which is the hard part. It is either taken as self-evident or something that cannot be stated.
  • Sam26
    2.6k
    Well, what is his aim in writing the book? He says, "Thus the aim of the book is to draw a limit to thought, or rather--not to thought, but to the expression of thoughts:" He does this by showing how language is limited to the facts of the world, and that there are no facts of metaphysics that language can latch onto.

    Facts are all around us. It's not difficult to find facts. There are many facts that haven't been discovered, but his aim is very specific.
  • schopenhauer1
    10.3k
    Facts are all around us. It's not difficult to find facts. There are many facts that haven't been discovered, but his aim is very specific.Sam26

    I think this is best illustrated if you give an example. What would a non-early Wittgenstein thinker make an error of and how would Wittgenstein respond to that?

    Language is limited to facts of the world.. What are those facts? You can't just say "Well, they are all around us". WHAT are the facts? He mentions objects, for example.. Can that be the missing content here? Simple objects, etc.. A fact must be what is "true" of an object?
  • schopenhauer1
    10.3k

    In other words, you can go around the merry-go-round with states of affairs, objects, and facts and propositions describing them, but I think there is a lot of nothing there.. Ironic, since he is trying to say that about "other" philosophy.
  • Banno
    23.6k
    Cheers. Fixed. A parenthetic, rather than qualitative, use, rendering the sense less clear.
  • Banno
    23.6k
    Facts are broken down into atomic facts and objects.Sam26

    "And objects"?

    I'd taken it that the world in the Tractatus is all that is the case, not a collection of simples. That is, the difference between Russell's and Wittgenstein's logical atomism is that for Russell the simples are particulars (objects), while for Wittgenstein the simples are states of affairs. So Russell had taken the individuals in Frege's logic to be the basic building blocks, while Wittgenstein took stats of affairs as the building blocks. So whereas for Russell it was enough to list individuals, properties and logical connectives, for Wittgenstein the objects and their associated properties form a thought, and hence a picture; object and property are not to be considered independently.

    But this is perhaps too esoteric for this thread.

    Good to see your involvement.
  • Banno
    23.6k
    Language is limited to facts of the world.schopenhauer1

    Well, no. Language can say lots of things that are not facts. I don't have a dog, for example, but I can use "My dog has fleas" in my posts.

    The facts are those propositions which happen to be true.
  • bongo fury
    1.6k
    The facts are those propositions whichBanno

    No, not in the text in question.

    whether a proposition is true or false depends on whether it correctly pictures a fact.Sam26

    Yes.
  • bongo fury
    1.6k
    for Wittgenstein the objects and their associated properties form a thought, and hence a picture; factBanno
  • Banno
    23.6k
    Your point is unclear to me.
    The facts are those propositions which happen to be true.Banno
    Nobongo fury

    So facts are not true propositions? That "the dog has flees" is true, is not a fact?
  • Janus
    15.8k
    "Fact" is used variously to refer to true propositions and states of affairs.
  • bongo fury
    1.6k
    So facts are not true propositions?Banno

    In the text in question, indeed not. They are what true propositions picture.

    That "the dog has fleas" is true, is not a fact?Banno

    The situation you there picture may be a fact. (For W in the text in question.) But the picture itself - the sentence - i.e. " 'the dog has fleas' is true" is merely a proposition. Just as is "the dog has fleas". (For W in the text in question.)
  • bongo fury
    1.6k
    "Fact" is used variously to refer to true propositions and states of affairs.Janus

    In everyday usage, sure. But W seems clear enough here that he means "combinations of things". As opposed to individual things, and as opposed to any sentences or pictures describing or depicting them. Truth-makers not truth-bearers.
  • Janus
    15.8k
    Yes, I think in the Tractatus 'fact' denotes states of affairs, and not the propositions that represent those states of affairs.
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