Guide Wittgensteins Tractatus: An Introduction

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INTRODUCTION

Hans Johann Glock - - Synthese 2 - James W. McGray - - History and Philosophy of Logic 27 2 Peter M. Sullivan - - European Journal of Philosophy 4 2 Modality and Anti-Metaphysics. Stephen K. McLeod - - Ashgate. The Anagogic Theory of Wittgenstein's 'Tractatus'. Roy Emanuel Lemoine - - Mouton. Transcendence and Wittgenstein's Tractatus. Michael P. The Metaphysics of Wittgenstein's Tractatus. Leonard Goddard - - Australasian Association of Philosophy. Heikki Kannisto - - Akateeminen Kirjakauppa.

An Introduction to Wittgenstein's Tractatus. Commentators sympathetic to Diamond's reading have tried to develop answers to these questions, while those critical of it have tried to argue that none of them works. And the debate still goes on. Alfred Nordmann's Wittgenstein's Tractatus: An Introduction shows how much scholarly discussions of the Tractatus have been changed by this debate. Traditional readers might expect that an introductory book on the Tractatus would be organized around the following topics: Frege's and Russell's logical theories as the main background; the ontology of logical atomism; the "picture theory" of language; the theory of logical statements as tautologies; the Tractarian views on knowledge, mind, solipsism, mathematics, science, ethics, and the "mystical".

Though Nordmann does address some of these topics, especially the picture theory, his central concern is to answer a single question which he formulates as follows: how would it be possible to show that " the Tractatus is written in a nonsensical language and [that] it advances a persuasive argument "? Let us call this the "Main Question" for future reference.


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Nordmann's book is divided into five chapters, and each of them comprises a step toward his answer to the Main Question. I wonder how many Wittgenstein scholars, including "resolute" readers, will be comfortable with the idea of organizing an introduction to the Tractatus around the topic of its nonsensicality; I certainly have reservations.

But whether or not it is appropriate for an introductory book, it will surely be a great contribution to our understanding of the Tractatus if Nordmann has succeeded in finding a satisfactory answer to the Main Question. Though Nordmann proposes novel and stimulating ideas throughout the book, my overall judgment is that he has not succeeded. In Chapter 1 of the book, Nordmann sets the stage for the subsequent discussion by situating the Tractatus in the tradition of "critical philosophy," the tradition which he characterizes as an attempt to find "a middle ground between dogmatism and skepticism" by examining "human language or reason to determine its implicit presuppositions, its capacities, its limits.

Nordmann makes a fairly plausible case here, and his discussion of the little explored affinities between Lichtenberg and Wittgenstein is particularly interesting. But there seems to be a crucial difference between Kant, Lichtenberg, and Hertz on the one hand, and Wittgenstein on the other, a difference that has a direct bearing on the Main Question: Wittgenstein's way of drawing the limits of language and thought in the Tractatus seems to be a lot more radical than those thinkers'.

For example, Kant famously draws the limits of human reason by arguing that we cannot know anything about what lies beyond our experience, but he still allows that we can at least think about it. Hence one way of domesticating the paradoxical remark in 6. But we have to wait until the second half of Chapter 4 and Chapter 5 in order to see what this distinction is and how he argues for it.

In Chapter 2 through the first half of Chapter 4, Nordmann instead takes further preliminary steps for his answer to the Main Question, this time by tackling the Tractatus directly. Chapter 2 develops and defends the thesis that the Tractatus has an "overarching argument" and that it has the form of a reductio ad absurdum. Nordmann claims that this argument has the following main hypothesis:. O A We are able to express any sense whatsoever in our two-dimensional script, that is, nothing is inexpressible in speech and all sense is in the world and within the limits of language.

A corollary follows from O A , which is that. O B Statements such as O A are not nonsensical. According to Nordmann, however, Wittgenstein draws from O A and O B the following conclusion, which can be found in 6. C There is the inexpressible in speech. Nordmann argues that C is established on the basis of the picture theory of language. In the picture theory, genuine sentences have their expressive capacities in virtue of the logical forms they share with the states of affairs they represent.

Wittgenstein's Tractatus : An Introduction

But all states of affairs have the feature of contingency in that they can either obtain or not obtain. Hence genuine sentences cannot represent what is not contingent, which includes, according to Wittgenstein, matters regarding the essential nature of logic, language, the world, and values. These matters are inexpressible; hence C. Furthermore, we have to conclude that the statements in the Tractatus are nonsensical given that they talk precisely about the essential nature of logic, language, the world, and values.

The Tractatus is unique in that it ends up denying the very hypotheses it has put forward. One may ask several questions here, including whether the Tractatus really has an overarching argument and whether it has the form of reductio. But I will not pursue them, as I have a more basic question. When one denies the premise in a reductio- argument, what one denies is only its truth , not its significance : if the premise of the reductio- argument is not even significant, it will not be able to play its role as a premise.

An Introduction to Wittgenstein's Tractatus - Semantic Scholar

But the radical conclusion of Wittgenstein's reductio- argument seems to deny the very significance of its premise with the implication that it is nonsensical. Nordmann himself is well aware of this problem, conceding that "what we need to understand is how … Wittgenstein's sentences are nonsensical without being utterly self-defeating, nonsensical and instructive or elucidatory" p. The radical nature of Wittgenstein's conclusion raises the same kind of problem for Nordmann's discussion in Chapter 3, where he investigates the literary character common to the statements of the Tractatus and suggests that they can usefully be thought of as aphorisms.

Stern, Nordmann characterizes aphorisms as personal records of the ideas having actually occurred to the author that nevertheless claim to be impersonal and objective. This conflict between personal and impersonal characters of aphorisms, Nordmann argues, provokes the readers to engage in and articulate the thought experiments behind the author's ideas recorded in the aphorisms. Concerning the Tractatus , in particular, Nordmann suggests that each of its statement as an aphorism is a miniaturized thought experiment that is intended to challenge the readers to go through the process of Wittgenstein's global thought experiment in the overarching reductio -argument, whose ultimate aim is to make the readers realize that each Tractarian statement is nonsensical.

This is an interesting idea, but if it is to be plausible, we need to know more about how Tractarian statements could be aphorisms in the way Nordmann characterizes if they are simply nonsense. Again, the same kind of problem arises for Nordmann's discussion in the first half of Chapter 4.

In this part Nordmann investigates the grammatical character of Tractarian statements and boldly suggests that they should be understood as implicit subjunctives. According to him, for example, the famous opening remark of the Tractatus , "The world is all that is the case," should really be understood as follows:. If any sense whatsoever were expressible in speech and I wanted to express thoughts about the relation of language and the world, it would first occur to me that the world is all that is the case.

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With this characterization of Tractarian statements as subjunctives, Nordmann attempts to give a unified treatment of his discussions in Chapter 2 and 3.